Setting the Stage: The World Humanitarian Summit

On the 23rd and 24th May, representatives from the United Nations, industry leaders and a litany of NGOs convened in Istanbul, Turkey for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit. The ambition of this meeting is to mobilize all stakeholders in confronting the harsh realities that face the international community. 

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) could not be arriving at a more appropriate moment in history. There are currently more displaced individuals than any point in time since World War II, as well as 11 ongoing civil wars each with countless civilian causalities. 

The Road to Istanbul

In the weeks leading up to the WHS, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) or “Doctors Without Boarders” announced its surprise withdrawal on May 5th. In the eyes of many, this decision was expected to detract from the event and cast doubt on the event as a whole.

Now that the WHS has come to a close, it is safe to say that this is not the case (thankfully). The World Humanitarian Summit created meaningful progress in forwarding the World Humanitarian Agenda.

Key Outcomes

Orchestrating the WHS is an achievement in its own right. However, what’s more impressive are the stakeholders’ ambitious commitments:

1) Improving Humanitarian Aid/ Response for Individuals with Disabilities

Over 110 signatories of the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, committed to being more “inclusive persons to individuals who suffer from “long-term physical, psychosocial, intellectual or sensory impairments.” The Charter acknowledges how individuals with disabilities are “disproportionately affected” by humanitarian emergencies and in prolonged armed conflicts, including the additional challenges and prejudices that many encounter which may further prevent these individuals from receiving much needed assistance. 

2) Humanitarian Financing

The Grand Bargain framework confirms that donors and aid organizations must strive to increase levels of funding, as there is currently a 15 billion (USD) gap between global humanitarian needs and available resources. To bridge this gap, stakeholders pledged to increase and support multi-year investments in local/national responders up to 25% by the year 2020, and to support no less than 5 countries with multi-year planning and collaboration by the end of 2017.  Moreover this agreement will create a leaner, collaborative reporting model that will increase transparency as well as reduce administrative bureaucracy.

3) Defining the Role of the Private Sector for Emergency Response and Preparedness

The “Connecting Business” initiative calls on entities in the private sector to actively engage in the Humanitarian Agenda through capacity building, and creating networks to improve emergency preparedness and response with government entities and other businesses. It aims to help strengthen business networks across Madagascar, Myanmar, Fiji — South Pacific, the Philippines, Nigeria, Kenya – East Africa, Haiti – Central America, Sri Lanka and in Turkey.

4) Investing in Preparedness

Announced on May 24th, the new global partnership for preparedness (GPP) is a project of the Vulnerable 20 Group (V20) the U.N. and the World Bank. Through the GPP, 20 countries will have bolstered resilience capabilities for disaster risks caused by climate change. 

5) Education Cannot Wait

Announced on May 23rd, the Education Cannot Wait is a global fund established to “transform the delivery of education in emergencies” and reach all impacted youths (some 75 million across 35 countries) by the year 2030. This fund has already collected over 90 million USD for their cause, aligning with the U.N.’s 2030 Agenda. Considering that only about 2% of humanitarian aid is dedicated to education initiatives, Education Cannot Wait is a very promising initiative.

6) The One Billion Coalition for Resistance (1BC)

An initiative of IFRC (International Federation of the Red Cross) 1BC was established in reaction to the dramatic increase in the number of individuals that currently rely on humanitarian assistance – approximately six times more than 10 years ago. It encompasses a digital ecosystem for advocacy, connectivity and humanitarian operations, active in over 60 countries worldwide with partnerships between nation-states, NGOs and private sector entities.

Reflections on the WHS

The World Humanitarian Summit was not a panacea for every humanitarian problem in the international community; rather it represents a giant step in the right direction through actionable policies with widespread  (but not universal) support.


Gabriel Rudin is a Project Officer for Partnerships at SDSN Youth. All opinions expressed on the blog are the opinion of the authors and not of SDSN Youth.