The World Humanitarian Summit: A summary of the major outputs (Part 1)

News Post date August 3, 2016

The first World Humanitarian Summit took place on 23-24th May. The Summit convened over 9,000 participants from across the world, marking the largest-scale United Nations meeting since the organisation was founded in 1945. This two-part article gives a brief summary of the main outputs of the Summit, and promising initiatives launched alongside the summit. This first part looks at the Chair’s Summary, the Commitment to Action and the Grand Bargain. The second part focuses on some of the other charters, funds and platforms that were introduced at the Summit.

The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) was called to address the “highest levels of human suffering since the Second World War[1]. United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon assembled world leaders and representatives from a broad range of stakeholder organisations at the Summit to generate commitments to place human safety, dignity and the right to thrive at the heart of global decision making.

Ahead of the Summit, a consultation process formulated over 300 recommendations across five core responsibilities:

1) Prevent and end conflict

2) Respect rules of war

3) Leave no one behind

4) Working differently to end need

5) Invest in humanity

These five core responsibilities, and their related commitments, were then detailed within the Secretary-General’s One Humanity: Shared Responsibility report[2] to be discussed at the WHS, in order to achieve the three main goals of the Summit:

1) To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of human principles

2) To initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare and response to crises, and to be resilient to shock

3) To share best practices which can help save lives around the world, put affected people at the centre of humanitarian action, and alleviate suffering

The WHS had a relatively rough start, with a major humanitarian organisation, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), pulling out and issuing a public statement as to why they no longer believed in the Summit. Additionally, attendance by global leaders was disappointing; as only one member of the Group of Seven (G7) was present. Ahead of the event, Thomson Reuters reported that, “Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council and key player in the Syrian and Ukrainian conflicts, announced it would only send low-level emissaries and remain silent on any WHS result[3]. The format of the Summit has been described as hap-hazard and difficult to follow by some, and regarded as highly successful by others. However, despite many clear limitations, some significant outputs and initiatives were generated by, or alongside, the Summit that do have the potential to positively influence the humanitarian system. A number of these are summarised within this article, in order to draw together the information and identify areas to monitor progression, including:

• Chair’s Summary

• Commitment to Action

• The Grand Bargain

• Network for Empowered Aid Response

• Charter4Change

• Global Partnership for Preparedness

• Education Cannot Wait Fund

• Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action

Chair’s Summary

Standing up for humanity: Committing to action

The Chair’s Summary highlights the major themes that were discussed during the WHS, and what attendees affirmed or pledged to do; providing an initial overview of the announcement of commitments, without specifying details.

The document emphasises that those commitments made at the Summit will contribute to commitments made in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development[4], the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction[5], the Addis Ababa Action Agenda[6], and the Paris (COP 21) Agreement on Climate Change[7], to address the needs of vulnerable populations.

Importantly, the Chair’s Summary states that all individual and joint commitments made will be reflected in a Commitments to Action platform, and that this platform will be publicly accessible – supposedly allowing stakeholders to hold themselves to account for the commitments made.

Read the Chair’s Summary here:

Commitment to Action

Commitment to Action is a document that was signed on the first day of the Summit, by the leaders of UN Agencies. It is, essentially, a commitment to operationalise the points raised within the Secretary General’s report, One Humanity: Shared Responsibility[2], and implement the outcomes of the WHS.

Read the Commitment to Action document here:

The Grand Bargain

The Grand Bargain is potentially the most significant piece of documentation to result from the Summit. It acts as a non-legally binding series of commitments by donors and aid organisations, to reform humanitarian funding.

The document is segmented into ten areas of focus:

1. Greater transparency

The first section of the Grand Bargain is centred around improving the transparency of the funding chain; how funds move from donors to responders and affected populations.

In particular, the Bargain refers to the use of a shared open-data standard and common digital platform to enable greater transparency and decision making. The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is suggested as “the most advanced option for a shared open-data standard”, whilst the Financial Tracking Service (FTS) is highlighted as a well-established, voluntary information platform, but requires further development.

A commitment to identify and further the use of such platforms, as a means to improve transparency, is outlined within this first section of the Grand Bargain.

2. More support and funding tools for local and national responders

Another major discussion point within the humanitarian sector, the engagement of local and national responders, features as a commitment within the Grand Bargain. Though approaches are vague, the aim to “reinforce rather than replace local and national capacities” is progressive in a system that is largely outdated. Specific commitments include:

Increase and support multi-year investment in the institutional capacities of local and national responders.

Understand better and work to remove or reduce barriers that prevent organisations and donors from partnering with local and national responders.

3. Increase the use and coordination of cash-based programming

Cash-based programming is a further prevalent topic of conversation. The Grand Bargain affirms that there are many benefits to humanitarian cash delivery, and that this method is still largely underutilised, but does not offer any real commitment to scale-up efforts.

The Bargain does pledge to invest in delivery models and to “build an evidence base to assess the costs, benefits, impacts, and risks of cash”, though disappointingly, no specific targets are set.

4. Reduce duplication and management costs with periodic functional reviews

This aspect of the Grand Bargain will depend upon compliance from both sides; donors must reduce reporting requirements and oversight mechanisms whilst aid organisations provide transparent and comparable cost structures and reduce costs through maximised efficiencies.

The commitment calls for improvements by 2017, though no definitive targets are set, including the harmonisation of partnership agreements and sharing of partner assessment information on affected populations, to save time and duplication.

5. Improve joint and impartial needs assessments

A continual theme throughout the Grand Bargain, this section focuses largely on collaboration as a means to avoid overlapping between organisations in regard to needs assessments. The Bargain recognises that current methods and tools are insufficient in providing decision makers with the information that they need, and that this leads to duplication of efforts, which in turn impacts upon affected communities as resources are not used effectually. This set of commitments revolve around a coordinated effort to produce a single assessment of needs for each crisis, and timely sharing of data collected by a transparent, collaborative process.

6. A participation revolution: include people receiving aid in making the decisions that affect their lives

The fact that this point still needs to be underlined speaks volumes about the past and current humanitarian system. More often than not, the ‘beneficiaries’ of aid have little or no say in the decision making process and therefore its impacts are not always positive or appropriate. Whilst feedback mechanisms are becoming more widely used, this area remains seriously wanting. A lack of representation at the decision making ‘tables’ and ineffectual impact assessments means that humanitarian aid can be dangerously disempowering to affected populations. In response to this, the Grand Bargain sets commitments for both donors and aid organisations that will help promote the Core Humanitarian Standard on Quality and Accountability[8] and the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Commitments to Accountability to Affected Populations[9].

Donors are committed to “Fund flexibly to facilitate programme adaptation in response to community feedback”, which in theory would give humanitarian organisations a lot more freedom to tailor their work to the specific needs of populations. To enable and inform this, aid organisations are committed to “Ensure that, by the end of 2017, all humanitarian response plans – and strategic monitoring of them - demonstrate analysis and consideration of inputs from affected communities”.

7. Increase collaborative humanitarian multi-year planning and funding

Improved collaboration is essential to achieving a more proactive, holistic approach to humanitarian aid. Currently, the sector is fragmented and coordination between organisations is often very poor. Through committing to multi-year planning and funding, organisations and donors will need to identify areas for collaboration not only between other humanitarian organisations but also with other relevant sectors. Long-term planning will require input from other actors who should be playing a significant role in addressing the issues that contribute to the need for aid in the first place.

8. Reduce the earmarking of donor contributions

In order to enable more flexible funding, this area of commitments addresses the earmarking of funds to specific projects. The Grand Bargain highlights the importance of flexible funding, “It strengthens decision-making bodies which include key stakeholders such as affected and refugee-hosting states as well as donors. It supports management systems and the use of cost-efficient tools as well as reduces the amount of resources spent on grant-specific administration, notably procurement and reporting”, whilst acknowledging that it demands a strong accountability mechanism.

The commitments are mainly exploratory and vague, to determine how to report on funding or to “reduce the degree of earmarking”; and the wording suggests little enforcement of their implementation, as is the case for the majority of the commitments within the Bargain.

9. Harmonise and simplify reporting requirements

The Grand Bargain states that, “Reporting requirements have grown over the years for specific and valid reasons including legal requirements associated with accountability and managing risk, to build trust, raise funds, for diplomatic purposes and to improve quality”. As a result of increased requirements, reporting consumes a large amount of resources and time. Therefore, this goal aims to make the reporting process more efficient in order to reduce the demand on organisations whilst maintaining quality; placing more responsibility on the donors to streamline report requirements. Technology and information sharing will play a big part in achieving this goal.

10. Enhance engagement between humanitarian and development actors

Converging humanitarian and development funding is a controversial subject, and the WHS received a substantial amount of criticism on this topic. MSF pulled out of the Summit over concerns that humanitarian aid would be merged into into development, and therefore take away from the criticality of aid work. Similarly, the Red Cross Movement would not fully commit to this area of the Bargain (The Grand Bargain footnote for these commitment reads: “While being unable to make these commitments in their entirety, the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement commits to enhancing its engagement with development actors”).

However, the Bargain states that “A better way of working is not about shifting funding from development to humanitarian programmes or from humanitarian to development actors. Rather, it is about working collaboratively across institutional boundaries on the basis of comparative advantage. This way of working does also not deviate from the primacy of humanitarian principles”.

Read The Grand Bargain here:

Whilst The Grand Bargain has its limitations, some of the work that it hopes to initiate has the potential to make positive changes within the humanitarian system. Through encouraging the distribution of cash aid, those affected will be able to establish greater levels of control over what aid is actually needed. The drive for more power and responsibility to be returned to affected populations, through involvement in decision making and increased funding of local NGOs, is a crucial issue that has largely been overlooked in the past. It is imperative that not only are these commitments upheld by all those who signed the Bargain, donors and aid organisations alike, but that the targets continue to advance with time instead of remaining static. There is potential for some of the initiatives (detailed in part two) that were launched in alignment with the WHS and the Grand Bargain, to maintain pressure to ensure that these commitments are not forgotten.










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