NGOs react to The World Humanitarian Summit

The first ever World Humanitarian Summit took place in Istanbul on May 23-24th. The Summit was called by the United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon to seek urgent and bold solutions to address increasing humanitarian needs globally. 

So, was the Summit a success? Did it manage to achieve what it set out to do? Here we provide a snapshot of reactions from many of the Irish agencies that attended the Summit.  

Ireland’s Official Delegation:

Ireland’s official delegation to the Summit was led by the President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins who gave several keynote speeches, including at a roundtable on gender equality and humanitarian financing. In his Leaders Statement, he was outspoken about the urgency to put “words into action” to help the 125 million people suffering as a result of humanitarian crisis and called for a profound rethink of international politics: “Let us honour those who have worked so hard to prevent, reduce and respond to conflicts, who have helped pick up the pieces in a broken world, but let us not shrink from the reality of the deep political and intellectual failures, with which we must deal, from which we must depart.” World leaders were facing “a moment of truth” he added.  See speeches, video footage and press releases here

The newly appointed Minister of State for the Diaspora and Overseas Development Aid Joe McHugh also attended the Summit. On his return, the Department of Foreign Affairs announced an extra €5 million in humanitarian funding for Syria & Yemen, with the Minister saying: “With the Syria crisis now in its sixth year, a whole generation is at risk of being lost to the war, with over 9 million of those affected being under the age of 18. We need to invest in Syria’s youth, and most importantly, rebuild their educational opportunities. This starts with restoring schools, building new ones for displaced children and providing support services for children who have been traumatised by their experiences in this crisis.”


What Dóchas members are saying:

Ireland's official delegation and Dóchas members at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul

Concern: “Mixed review” is the verdict of Dominic MacSorley, CEO of Concern Worldwide, who gives his personal analysis of the Summit in a Dóchas blog, “In Defence of Sean Penn." He suggests that of the 1,500 commitments made at the end of the two day Summit, there was important progress made on some practical aspects, including greater emphasis on education in emergencies, and the ‘Grand Bargain’ which calls for greater involvement of local NGOs.  But it is unclear if the political will was there to bring about substantial change and, in particular, any urgency to address the root causes of conflict and disaster. The absence of Presidents Obama and Putin, along with the other five other heads of state representing permanent members on the Security Council, didn’t help matters, nor were there any strong statements in support of the principles of international humanitarian law, which in the face of current conflicts, is surely cause for concern.

Trócaire: Following the Summit Eamonn Meehan, Executive Director of Trócaire, wrote a compelling analysis of the situation entitled: "Total absence of political will to stop humanitarian crises emerging is the biggest issue" which was published in the Irish Independent. In it Meehan stresses the lack of political will and goes further, to say that the political system is actually fuelling crises rather than fixing them. He makes the point that heads of states from all countries were expected to attend but fewer than half actually did, saying it is a 'damning indication of global political apathy' that so few governments have heeded the call to action by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. He also rather poignantly points to the fact that 'the permanent members of the UN Security Council are the world’s biggest arms dealers – often their main priority is not peace.' Though he welcomes some positive movement on the emphasis on increasing the focus on logal organisations in humanitarian responses, his overall summing up of the Summit is one of disappointment: "The World Humanitarian Summit was billed as a step towards ensuring the humanitarian system is fit to respond to the challenges it faces. Sadly, it appears that it will instead act as a symbol of the disjointed and incoherent system that millions of people around the world rely on for their very survival."

Oxfam welcomed the progress made at the Summit but also made the point that the absence of key world leaders ultimately undermined its power to deliver real change. Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International said: "The first World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul successfully brought together a dynamic mix of people who made progress on improving the humanitarian system - but ultimately it was world leaders who dodged their responsibility to protect civilians from the ongoing suffering of wars and natural disasters”. 

World Vision was pleased with the level of participation at the Summit of those who did attend. Over 8,000 people attended from more than 173 nations, including 55 heads of state. They also felt progress was made on many of the commitments towards their core humanitarian priorities especially in relation to education in emergencies, humanitarian financing, innovation and partnering.  But despite these positive outcomes, the lack of attention to child protection remained very disappointing in the face of multiple protection crises around the world. 

Plan International highlighted the fact that children are disproportionately affected by humanitarian crises, and typically comprise half or more of the population that are suffering. Much more needs to be done, they argue, to meet the needs of adolescent girls in particular; an area of programming that remains neglected in humanitarian action.  Plan makes the point that while the ‘Grand Bargain on Efficiency’ is a welcome effort, it will not bring a large enough dividend to significantly address the current funding shortfall, which is essential to address the Core Responsibilities set out by the Secretary General.  Plan International has drawn up a very comprehensive look at what each of the Core Responsibilities means in very practical terms and what their asks are to deliver these aims. 

Christian Blind Mission (CBM) Ireland  was involved in the advocacy process leading up to the historic endorsement of a “Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action” at the Summit as well as the publication of the document. The Charter is widely seen to be a huge step forward in significantly improving living conditions of persons with disabilities during emergencies. It urges government representatives as well as leaders of non-governmental organisations and funding bodies to ensure that their future humanitarian actions will be inclusive of people with disabilities, based on five principals: non-discrimination and recognition of the diversity of people with disabilities; involvement of people with disabilities in developing humanitarian programs; ensuring services and humanitarian assistance are equally available for and accessible to all people with disabilities;implementation of inclusive global policies; and cooperation and coordination among humanitarian actors to improve inclusion of people with disabilities. CBM welcomined the launch of the Charter, through a joint disability group statement saying: "This partnership between DPOs, humanitarian and human rights organisations is crucial as a first step towards inclusive humanitarian action.” 

More expert analysis and reactions:

Aside from the Summit chair’s official summary, IRIN News, an independent humanitarian news and analysis agency, suggests some of the key achievements include:

  • The Grand Bargain agreement to make aid more efficient

  • A new fund for education in emergencies

  • charter on including people with disabilities in humanitarian action

  • partnership between UN agencies, the World Bank and the V20 to better prepare high-risk countries for future disasters linked to climate change

  • A platform for young people in crisis

  • New innovative financing methods, such as a humanitarian impact bond

  • An initiative to build resilience among one billion people

For more see:

BOND, the network of UK aid agencies, has also provided a useful summary of UK NGO reactions, see:    

For a reminder of the road leading up to the Summit and the processes involved, see the Dóchas blog: 5 things you need to know about the WHS.