The last consultation... Closing the input stage of the World Humanitarian Summit

by 31st Jul 2015
An internally displaced woman receives a kit of non-food items from CARE staff in northern Cameroon, July 2015 An internally displaced woman receives a kit of non-food items from CARE staff in northern Cameroon, July 2015

I’ve been privileged to join the final World Humanitarian Summit Regional Consultation in South and Central Asia this week in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, and all in all it has been a mixed bag.

As my colleague Barbara Jackson reported from the Europe Consultation, the process can be problematic, and this time we’ve again had our share of contributors who have a set line they want to get included, whether or not it contributes to the discussion at hand. (Full disclosure: ours concerns the criticality of an integrated approach to gender in response.)

However, lessons have been learnt and the agenda has given us space to engage in more depth than was the case in earlier consultations. We’ve also been building on that work, with summaries of earlier consultations ready to hand and a willingness to defer to the work already done where there is a close similarity.

This consultation is one of the smaller ones, with 132 participants, but it’s still a big and very diverse group ranging from Foreign and Disaster Management Ministry representatives, NGO types like me, many UN colleagues and a too-small smattering of inspirational people from small local organisations, youth groups and affected communities. As someone who has worked in the region for many years, I’ve enjoyed meeting old friends and catching up on developments, but getting such a diverse group to agree a few prioritised objectives at the next big meeting in October will not be easy.

Who’s a donor and who’s not?

The challenge remains ensuring that our often jargon-filled discussions result in concrete propositions that will genuinely change things for affected people.

One of the proposals I was most excited about is a call to better capture the resources affected countries spend on humanitarian assistance within their own borders, to their own people and refugees. Doing this sounds like boring accounting, but could potentially change the dynamic from supplicant ‘poor’ countries requesting assistance from the ‘rich’ world, to a much more balanced recognition that we’re all part of a global partnership to address global humanitarian challenges – affected countries such as Ethiopia, Jordan, Lebanon, Kenya and Pakistan who have hosted multi-million refugee populations, sometimes for decades, would almost certainly be recognised as major donors, something that would put Europe’s current ‘refugee crisis’ in context. It could be a real game-changer.

Other sessions were less inspirational, but as one participant pointed out to me, the networks, discussions and new thinking this process has fostered are already driving change amongst humanitarians – for our part CARE recently updated our humanitarian strategy to reflect the changing humanitarian world.

A call to global leaders: address the root causes!

With the old chestnut that ‘there are no humanitarian solutions to humanitarian issues’ increasingly bandied about, there is a shared recognition that even with the most innovative financing solutions and cost-effective, high-tech methods of delivery, no amount of aid can meet the needs of people in places like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Syria and South Sudan. Only a political commitment by UN Member States to prepare for disasters and push through political solutions to the conflicts will do the job to anything like the levels required.

Personally, I’m increasingly convinced that the real achievement of the World Humanitarian Summit will not be tweaks to the humanitarian ‘system’ – rather, it must be coordinating a strident and discomfiting call from humanitarians everywhere to global political leaders that galvanises the world into addressing the political root causes that result in the ‘cascade of catastrophes’ we face today.

For more information, and for the outcomes of the regional consultation when they are available, please visit