Event Reports

Single or unified approach to deal with humanitarian crises ineffective, says India

Photolabs@ORF
2016
May
21

Listing the manmade and natural crisis situations the world is facing currently, Secretary (West), Ministry of External Affairs, Ms. Sujata Mehta, warned that using a single or unified approach to deal with these humanitarian crises would be ineffective, inefficient and inhumane.

Delivering the key-note address at the conference titled “Leave No One Behind”, organised by Observer Research Foundation on May 4, Ms. Mehta pointed out that the number of people affected by humanitarian crises in the world is expected to increase in future and this will intensify the pressure on resources.

She said there is a realisation now that the international development aid system has fallen short of the growing humanitarian challenges and therefore, the first World Humanitarian Summit, which begins on May 23 in Istanbul, assumes significance and also generates high expectations.

The two-day Summit is convened by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Here, world leaders will discuss and commit to five core responsibilities laid out in the new agenda for humanitarian action, to prevent and end conflict, to respect rules of law, to leave no one behind, to work differently to end need and to invest in humanity. Heads of states and governments, representatives of civil society, private sector, crisis affected communities and multilateral organisations will attend the summit.

The “Leave No One Behind” at the ORF Delhi campus was aimed at addressing topics of the World Humanitarian Summit and how it can be made relevant for developing countries. The conference, hosted the MEA Secretary (West), saw three distinguished panellists and several participants, including scholars, government heads, representatives of civil society nongovernmental organisations etc. taking part in the discussions.

Dr. Urvashi Aneja, Fellow at ORF, highlighted important aspects of the Secretary-General’s report titled ‘One Humanity Shared Responsibility’. She stressed the importance of political will and leadership from states, particularly around preventing and ending conflict, and respecting international humanitarian law. The growing involvement of southern states, civil society organisations and the private sector also have potential to bring new legitimacy and new representativeness to international humanitarianism.

In the key-note address, Ms. Mehta welcomed the observation made in the report that additional funding cannot come at the expense of development funding and that developed countries should fulfil their commitments to provide 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as ODA. The need to increase direct and predictable financing to national and local actors, while making a provision for long-term support to develop such actors’ capacity is another welcoming move in the report.

From a developing country’s perspective, Ms. Mehta pointed out some concerns on the Agenda:

• The report advocates new humanitarian aid architecture and seeks new financial arrangements to address consequences of dangerous policies, but does not refer to measures to prevent their emergence in the first place.

• Ms. Mehta said that India cannot support recommendations that carry the potential of diverting resources away from development programmes or the suggestion of an arbitrary concept of ‘equitable responsibility’ vis a vis CBDR. Responsibility sharing should be based on agreed principles of CBDR and not on nebulous so called equitable responsibility sharing.

• The report is not very clear how societies or states facing severe socio-economic strain are expected to have economic and financial infrastructure to undertake the suggested recommendation of enhancing domestic resources.

• The need to avoid diversion of resources from development programmes to what may be labelled as humanitarian actions has to be acknowledged.

• Any effort at reducing or diluting the need to require member states endorsement for commitment of resources would not be supported. This is important for aid receiving countries and Least Developed Countries (LDC’s), if implemented in an undifferentiated manner the assistance that LDC’s receive could be diverted almost arbitrarily.

• The entire issue of development should not be looked at through the prism of a humanitarian crisis as this is most likely to result in skewed priorities. This could also lead to adverse impact on the developmental needs of those societies which are facing multiple and urgent crises as understood on their territory.

Ms. Mehta shared some recommendations and the Indian perspective on the World Humanitarian Summit. She pointed to the root cause for the ongoing humanitarian emergencies; the largest movement of people since Second World War, which has been deeply imbedded in recent conflicts in countries such as Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Syria. There are fundamental issues surrounding the failure of the United Nations Security Council in preventing the emergence of conflict situations in these countries leading to humanitarian crisis. This points to the need for urgent reform of the UN Security Council.

According to her, it is imperative for the sake of impartiality, neutrality and effectiveness of humanitarian action that assistance be provided only with the consent and at the request of the affected country. She suggested that the UN should focus on playing a central role in providing leadership and coordination to the efforts of the international community to support strengthening its response capacity in a cost effective and timely manner.

She highlighted the fact that only 0.2% of humanitarian financing is channelled directly to local organisations, which means that 99.8% of funds are used by those who have little or no knowledge on the ground. This results in a series of sub-contracting arrangements which ultimately makes the system ineffective and inefficient. Ms. Mehta also suggested that the World Humanitarian Summit should work out a robust mechanism for adequate and sustained financial support from the developed world, at concessional terms and conditions. While discussing the current refugee crisis in Europe, she warned that terms ‘migrant’ and ‘refugees’ are being used interchangeably and doing this blurs the distinction between the two and limits the obligations of countries of refuge to provide protection to refugees. The blurring of the distinction between migrants and refugees is a worrisome trend.

Ms. Mehta commented on India’s position on the refugee crisis by saying that, “India has been generally supportive of the principles of burden sharing and solidarity in respect of refugees. However, we have reservations in case there is an attempt to call for a so called ‘equitable or shared responsibility’ to address the refugee crises.” In conclusion, she reaffirmed India’s commitment to providing humanitarian assistance as per national circumstances and ability, to neighbouring and friendly countries, based on their request and conscious of the gravity of the problem. She gave an example of the Nepal earthquake in 2015 and the support India provided.

Dr. Vikrom Mathur, ORF Senior Fellow, introduced the panellists and posed some questions regarding different aspects of the World Humanitarian Summit.

The first speaker, Ms. Marcy Vigoda, Chief of OCHA Global Partnerships and Mobilization, made three important points. First, on the changing nature of humanitarian needs and response today. The number of people affected by natural disasters increased from 97 million in 2013 to 141 million in 2014. Despite these enormous numbers, relatively few of the natural disasters actually called for international response because of the capacity to respond nationally. This is certainly positive, as it means that over the past 20-30 years national capacity has grown and there is less of a need for international response. She stated that the UNSG’s report calls for the need to reinforce and not replace national and local systems and to bridge the development humanitarian divide. In terms of response, she suggested anticipating and not waiting for the crisis to happen.

Her second point was on the connection between the World Humanitarian Summit and other key global events. The World Humanitarian Summit is inextricably linked with other summits and agreements such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s), it is impossible to achieve the SDG’s without reaching out to those who are living in the midst of humanitarian crisis.

In her final point, she discussed new actors and the private sector. Ms. Vigoda argued that the private sector is already a responder and that OCHA has been working with the private sector for several years. She suggested that working with the private sector is a great opportunity as they are affected by crisis, their supply chain, their employees and customers and so to build on the interest of the private sector to engage in a more coherent way.

Next, Mr. Ernest Rwamucyo, High Commissioner of Rwanda to India, discussed the African perspective on the World Humanitarian Summit. According to him, there some key issues that should be of significant focus at the World Humanitarian Summit: Summit should really attempt to address the failure to take collective action, the issue of state vs. individual interest, importance of ownership, role of humanitarian agencies need to be re thought, more inclusiveness and the issue of financing and aligning that financing to the nature of the challenges that are faced. While discussing South-South cooperation and how a country like India could play a role, he suggested sharing of knowledge and technology. Lastly, he highlighted the need for action and will to deliver on the commitments.

Then, Mr. Puneet Agrawal, Joint Secretary, UNES, MEA, flagged his concerns regarding the World Humanitarian Summit. He argued that the World Humanitarian Summit is being driven by the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe and the Middle East and there has been very little focus on the root causes behind the humanitarian crisis and how the world and the international community can get together to address these root causes. He also suggested that humanitarian issues should be looked at from a holistic picture and not a narrow approach, i.e. the refugee and migrant perspectives. Humanitarian priorities for developing countries that are not just limited to these issues should also be taken into account. While discussing the national priority for India, he mentioned that poverty eradication will continue to be India’s focus and that the SDG’s would be the benchmark for India’s developmental agenda.

A participant enquired how the private sector can assist in aid, keeping in mind the issues with taxation. Mr. Puneet Agrawal answered by saying that the private sector can be very helpful in humanitarian response and gave the example of the Nepal Earthquake, when the Government of India coordinated with the private sector on the basis of requests from the Nepal government. “It has to be on the basis of request,” he reiterated.

“How can developing countries like Rwanda share experiences that are relevant to the World Humanitarian Summit?” was a question posed to Mr. Ernest Rwamucyo. He responded by giving the example of Rwanda in 1994 and the two million displaced refugees who were resettled in Rwanda again. He emphasised on the fact that leadership had to make long term solutions and required bold decisions and strong will. “We didn’t rely on international agencies but on ourselves and within months all people were brought back,” he said.

This report is prepared by Priyanka Shah, Junior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.