The World Humanitarian Summit: priorities for reform Contents


The global humanitarian system is facing a crisis of legitimacy, capacity and means, but the imperative to improve is outpacing the sector’s ability to do so, blocked by systemic flaws within the system. The process leading up to the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) has catalysed a global debate on the effectiveness of humanitarian action, generating a critical opportunity to rethink the foundations on which the system operates.”1—Overseas Development Institute

1.The Department for International Development (DFID), along with the international community as a whole, is spending record amounts on humanitarian assistance, yet the gap between needs and available resources has never been so great. While the US$25 billion currently spent annually is twelve times greater than fifteen years ago, this gap is at its widest ever (US$15 billion).2 The result is that the global community is failing to adequately meet the needs of millions of people devastated by wars and disasters, despite the global pledge, agreed as part of the Sustainable Development Goals last year, to “leave no one behind”.3 Furthermore, the frequency, scale and severity of humanitarian crises are set to continue rising, as a result of climate change, the proliferation of armed groups, water scarcity, and population growth.4 This highlights the urgency of developing a new approach to address current and future humanitarian needs more effectively.

Fig 1: The widening gap between needs and funding (inter-agency appeals)

Source: UN OCHA World Humanitarian Data and Trends, 2015

2.In 2012, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, called for a World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) to collectively examine the effectiveness of humanitarian action and devise a plan on how to better meet the needs of people affected by conflict and disasters. Three years of preparation, involving consultations that reached more than 23,000 people in 153 countries revealed both the need and appetite for reform, both among actors in the system and crisis-affected communities.5

3.This wide consultation process carried out by the WHS Secretariat did an excellent job of listening to the views of a wide range of stakeholders within the system yet, by its own admission, has failed to build consensus around a priority set of proposals.6 The need for change in the humanitarian system built on the outcome of the WHS has prompted us to launch an inquiry to consider these priorities in the lead-up to the Summit. We called for written evidence, looking broadly at the challenges faced in reforming the humanitarian system, but more specifically at the following issues:

4.This report has used the evidence received, both in writing and across three oral evidence sessions, the first with Bruno Lemarquis, Deputy Director, Crisis Response Unit, United Nations Development Programme, Christina Bennett, Research Fellow, Humanitarian Policy Group, Overseas Development Institute, Markus Geisser, Senior Humanitarian Affairs and Policy Adviser, International Committee of the Red Cross, Rt Hon Desmond Swayne TD MP, Minister of State, DFID and Dylan Winder, Head of Humanitarian Policy and Partnerships, DFID. The second session involved Rt Hon Clare Short and Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, both former Secretaries of State for International Development. The final session involved Anne Foley, Head of Disaster Risk Management, Plan International UK, Mike Noyes, Head of Humanitarian Response and Resilience, ActionAid UK, George Graham, Head of Conflict and Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy, Save the Children UK and Mukesh Kapila CBE, Professor of Global Health and Humanitarian Affairs, University of Manchester. We are grateful to all those that submitted oral and written evidence which has proved invaluable in helping to generate a list of priorities that we believe are key for DFID to deliver on at the WHS in its role as a major humanitarian donor.

5.In February 2016, Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP and Rt Hon Clare Short, both former Secretaries of State for International Development, wrote to the Committee to express concerns about the ability of NGOs to operate within and close to Syria. Their letter can be found in Appendix 1.

1 Overseas Development Institute (DAS0016) para 4

2 High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing Report to the Secretary-General, Too important to fail—addressing the humanitarian financing gap (January 2016) p v

3 DFID, Leaving no one behind: Our promise (November 2015)

4 Heba Aly, IRIN News (DAS0032) para 4

5 UN Secretary-General, One humanity: shared responsibility, para 14

6 Heba Aly, IRIN News (DAS0032) para 14

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6 May 2016