Bold Reform or Empty Rhetoric? A Critique of the World Humanitarian Summit

World leaders will meet in Istanbul on 23-24 May 2016 for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit. Led by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), the summit will call upon states and other stakeholders to commit to five responsibilities to reform the international humanitarian architecture. This Special Report unpacks these reform proposals, their implications for global humanitarian action, and the prospects for change. The UNSG report is bold in its call for a shift from humanitarian exceptionalism to collective action, bridging the humanitarian-development divide, and the localisation of humanitarian response. However, the reform agenda rests on the assumption of a single unified humanitarian architecture, even when the understandings and practices it reflects on are specific to UN agencies and INGOs. It also does not adequately distinguish between the various humanitarian contexts and the differing responses they might require, nor addresses the issue of implementation, which risks relegating the summit to a primarily rhetorical commitment.

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Urvashi Aneja