The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul on 23 and 24 May is the first Summit of this kind and stems from an initiative of UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki-moon. Chancellor Merkel, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Development Minister Müller were representing Germany. Given the 125 million people dependent on humanitarian assistance worldwide, Steinmeier described the meeting in Istanbul to be “more urgent than ever before”.
More and more people in need
The figures speak for themselves: ten years ago, some 32 million people around the world were in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. Today it is four times as many. Climate change, extreme poverty, water and food shortages, migration and epidemics drive more and more people into such need that they are dependent on help from humanitarian aid agencies. In acute crisis situations, it is crucial that sufficient financing is available and that the many national and international players can coordinate their work. And not least, it is speed which can be a matter of life or death when it comes to rescuing those buried or saving the starving.
Humanitarian aid and development cooperation
To react to the greater humanitarian need and to improve the global system of humanitarian assistance, UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki-moon issued an invitation to the World Summit in Istanbul. This is the first meeting of all state, non‑state and international players who play a role in this field. Alongside Chancellor Merkel, the German delegation included representatives from both the Federal Foreign Office and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Within the Federal Government, the Federal Foreign Office is responsible for humanitarian assistance, while the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is in charge of long‑term development cooperation. One official goal of the Summit is to dovetail these two spheres more effectively. In the run‑up to the Summit, Federal Chancellor Merkel emphasised that the two terms need to remain strictly separate. After all, particularly in conflict situations, it is important that humanitarian assistance is as a matter of principle non‑political so that it can preserve its neutrality towards all parties.
Call to double funding for UN Central Emergency Response Fund
Before the Summit, Foreign Minister Steinmeier voiced his support for the UN Secretary‑General's call to double the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to a billion euros. After all, this Fund can react extremely quickly to emergencies and make funding available within hours, as it did recently following earthquakes in Ecuador, Nepal and Haiti. CERF was also one of the first institutions with financing available to tackle the Ebola crisis. That is why CERF has been able to help many millions of people in the last ten years - providing on average health services for some 20 million, food for 10 million and water for 8 million every year.
Although CERF has a broad basis of 125 member states as well as private donors, the ten largest donors actually contribute 87% of its funding. Thus, Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued the following appeal: “New contributors, greater contributions and innovative financing solutions are required if we want CERF to remain in a position to act in the face of our world’s humanitarian need today.”
Steinmeier cites priorities
After arriving in Istanbul, Steinmeier cited his three priorities. Firstly, a solid financial basis so that aid organisations “do not have to worry constantly about how they will get through the next month”. As one of the largest donors of humanitarian assistance, Germany is leading by example and has earmarked more than 1.3 billion euros for 2016. Secondly, assistance must be available “immediately and reliably”, as there is no time for complicated coordination processes in a crisis. Finally, crisis prevention, stabilisation and post‑conflict peacebuilding need to be dovetailed more closely so that human suffering as a decisive cause of flight can be prevented before it happens.
For Steinmeier, the onus is on the entire international community. After all, providing humanitarian aid is a global responsibility which all states have to shoulder. This summit, in the conception of which we played a key role, is intended to send the message that everyone has to do more.