Hopes for the World Humanitarian Summit: A perspective from Pakistan civil society

by 23rd May 2016
Children look out from a temporary tent home after flooding caused by heavy rains in September 2014 affected more than 2 million people. Photo from CARE partner organisation Awaz. Children look out from a temporary tent home after flooding caused by heavy rains in September 2014 affected more than 2 million people. Photo from CARE partner organisation Awaz.

An interview with Naseer Memon of the National Humanitarian NGO Network in Pakistan

The National Humanitarian NGO Network (NHN) was established in 2010 to support joint work between national civil society organisations working in humanitarian response in Pakistan. NHN has sought to influence the outcomes of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), including by developing a joint statement by national NGOs in Pakistan on the process. Naseer Memon, chief executive of SPO (Strengthening Participatory Organization – a national NGO) and current chair of NHN, shared his thoughts on the WHS.

Given your personal experience as a Pakistani national working in humanitarian action, what is your biggest hope for the World Humanitarian Summit?

Humanitarian aid should have a focus on strengthening national and local humanitarian actors. When the earthquake hit Pakistan in 2005, humanitarian aid was delivered on a project to project basis, and after the crisis was over, local humanitarian actors were disenfranchised from humanitarian funding until the next crisis occurred. Similarly in 2010 and 2012 donors maintained the same trend, focusing on service delivery through ad-hoc funding with little attention towards institutional strengthening of local humanitarian actors.

NHN expects long-term institutional development support to local humanitarian actors in line with the WHS agenda on localising humanitarian action. I hope that the WHS discussions on financing will help address this.

But while I hope the summit will reinforce local humanitarian institutions, we also need to see commitments by all at the Summit to strengthen compliance with international law. Access constraints are a real challenge, and hopefully the Summit can help address this. Engagement of local government on this is important.

What is your biggest concern regarding the WHS process and what might be agreed or not agreed in Istanbul?

The Summit is at the global level and at a time of a vast array of different crises around the world. Needs are ever increasing. My biggest concern is that the WHS may identify commitments to address all the challenges in principle and statements at the Summit, but it is not clear what the follow-up process will be to implement those commitments whether by the UN, donors or national governments.

Empowering local and national institutions in disaster risk reduction and emergency response has been a priority theme in the WHS process. What do you see as the most important lesson learned in Pakistan to inform the debate on these issues?

As I have already shared, I think the role of national and local institutions in humanitarian action is important. But it is also important to emphasise that humanitarian action has no borders. It is based on universal principles and values of humanity and saving lives in times of crisis. As such, it is helpful that the Summit reaffirms the core humanitarian principles and international laws that guarantee protection and respect of people’s rights in times of crisis.

It is in this context that governments like that of Pakistan can best create an enabling environment for delivery of aid. There is a need for increased accountability of humanitarian action, with humanitarian principles and standards being at the heart of how this is assessed. Aid delivery should not get diverted from meeting the needs of people due to any distracting factors.

Innovation has also been a big theme in the WHS  process. What would you personally say is the most interesting form of ‘humanitarian innovation’ in Pakistan in recent years which you hope the Summit could help to scale-up?

One innovation in Pakistan has been how the NHN established a Complaint Response Mechanism with a hotline for internally-displaced people (IDPs) in 2014. This collected complaints and feedback on assistance and support from both government agencies and other humanitarian agencies. The mechanism has since been adopted by the Provincial Disaster Management Authority  – Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (PDMA-KP) and it has been a regular feature of PDMA-KP in every response since then.

The WHS  has also brought new attention to gender in humanitarian action and the role played by local women’s organisations in humanitarian assistance and protection. Can you share any insights into how this issue is relevant in Pakistan?

The WHS focus on gender is very relevant in Pakistan. During the crisis-induced population displacement in 2014, humanitarian agencies – including both UN and government – faced challenges in reaching and delivering assistance to female IDPs. Identification of the needs of women and girls was challenging given the context of cultural and tribal constraints.

NHN came forward to help address this issue. To make progress, NHN held dialogues with the committees of displaced people led by men and negotiated with them to allow women to form and participate in a women’s committee. Through this approach, NHN was able to help identify women’s specific needs and communicate these to government and humanitarian partners.

This was one positive example. Other ideas were pulled together in a recent joint statement on gender and the WHS in Pakistan, which over 15 local organisations fed into and endorsed.

To what extent have any of the ideas raised in the WHS discussions already started to influence policy or practice in Pakistan?

Already in Pakistan, we have seen how the WHS debates on localisation of aid, the needs and roles of women and girls in humanitarian action, and investing in humanity have relevance to our context. However, there has been relatively little action or influence on policy and practice at the local level in Pakistan yet. And despite the big focus on ‘localisation’ in the WHS debate globally and in Pakistan, we are yet to see the benefits of this in Pakistan.

In contrast, however, we have started to see the WHS discussions on gender in Pakistan get mainstreamed into the structures of disaster management authorities. Regarding ‘invest in humanity’, humanitarian needs continue to be unmet in Pakistan – it is a disaster-prone country and there is a large refugee caseload from Afghanistan.

I hope that after 24 May we see some follow-up both at global and national level to these ideas to better address the challenges we face on the ground here.