Skip to main content

United Nations World Humanitarian Summit

Volume 767: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what priorities they have agreed for the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Istanbul in May 2016.

My Lords, the UK has four objectives for the World Humanitarian Summit. Most importantly, we want a renewed commitment to the protection of civilians in conflict but also smarter financing, a new approach to building resilience to natural hazards before they take place, and a stronger focus on protecting and empowering women and girls. The global community—humanitarian, development and political actors—must come together to address these challenges.

While the priorities for this summit will undoubtedly focus on financing and the immediate scale of the humanitarian crisis around the world today, will the UK Government do all they can to ensure that the summit also addresses the issue of child protection, particularly in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, when human traffickers and others who would abuse and exploit children move all too quickly to trap and ensnare them, sometimes taking them across borders to carry out their evil deeds?

I am grateful to the noble Lord for his Question. He raises some very important issues around children given that 59 million children are growing up in the midst of humanitarian crises. I reassure him that we are committed to keeping children safe from harm, ensuring that they can access education and basic services wherever they are and that in health emergencies, such as we saw with Ebola in Sierra Leone, we are there on the ground to work not only with Governments but with local civil society organisations too.

My Lords, have the Government considered the merits of concentrating British and European aid on the Middle East and the northern half of Africa, both in our interest and that of the huge rising young generation, which is so badly in need of work?

Yes, my Lords. Again, the noble Lord raises some important points. One of the key things we want to be able to do from the summit is to bring together not just Governments but civil society organisations and people from academia to see how we can respond to the growing need to make sure that young people particularly are able to get trained, educated and engaged in employment. They need meaningful life skills so that we do not end up with a generation unable to respond to the ever-growing demands of the 21st century.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister will be aware that the United Kingdom’s commitment to 0.7% of gross domestic product as international development aid gives us the opportunity to give leadership at the World Humanitarian Summit. Can we use that and our commitment to predictable multiyear financing to lead in the development of training programmes for additional professionals capable of responding to humanitarian crises—not only trained but also available—since the use of additional financial resources depends on trained professionals in the field?

My noble friend again addresses a real, serious issue—one we recognised when we had to deal with the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone. Our ambition for the summit is one of radical change to humanitarian action. We need much more efficiency, effectiveness and accountability in our responses and the responses of others, including a much-strengthened professional humanitarian workforce.

My Lords, given what the noble Baroness said about the importance of protecting civilians in conflict, will Her Majesty’s Government think again about supporting a United Nations resolution to protect interpreters working in conflict zones, to put them on the same footing as journalists, who are already protected by such measures?

My Lords, I think the noble Baroness’s question has been raised before. I am not able to respond to her at this moment. Will she allow me to write to her?

My Lords, does the Minister agree that girls and boys must be part of the decision-making process, since children comprise 50% to 60% of the affected population in emergencies and suffer disproportionately from the effects? Can the Minister confirm that DfID will work with child-focused agencies such as Save the Children which have already focused on these issues and have compiled the views of more than 6,000 children in a range of countries?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware from her time as a Minister in the Foreign Office that we work very closely with a range of civil society organisations and other groups, and it is really important that we get the views of everybody, including children. As one of the countries that has often taken the lead on this, we must get other countries and institutions to work closely with us where we feel more can be done. As my noble friend said earlier, we have committed the 0.7% and shown our commitment to it and are dedicated to ensuring that no one—children, women, or girls—is left behind in the discussions.

My Lords, last month the UN Secretary-General warned that the scale and cost of humanitarian needs driven by armed conflicts threatened to overwhelm our capacity to respond. Does the Minister agree that the permanent members of the Security Council have an obligation to work jointly to resolve conflicts, rather than using them to serve their own geopolitical ends? Will she ensure that the UK Government lead by example in that respect?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the UK has led and continues to lead by example. The summit next year will again bring a lot of different actors to the table to discuss these very important issues so that we have a joint, combined response that reaches out to more people.

Will the Minster consider the United Nations duty to protect, and remind herself that at times non-intervention can cost far more lives than intervention?

My Lords, we have to do what the UK Government are doing, which is working very closely with our partners, making sure that we are there on the ground when we are needed and providing support where we cannot be present. Generally, I think that we are doing exactly what has been asked of us and we should be proud of the commitment that the UK Government have made.

My Lords, third time lucky, I hope. The noble Baroness made the very good point that humanitarian programmes have the potential to make the difference between dependency and development. Will the department and the Government look at examples of this, such as providing refugees with cash rather than in-kind goods so that they can stimulate the local economy and benefit host nations as well as themselves?

My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, these discussions are ongoing. I cannot give precise details of exact discussions with different individuals but, as the noble Lord will also be aware, these things are often done in case-by-case reviews.

My Lords, has the Minister considered that before being able to help the children, we need to have peace? What are the Government doing to secure peace in the Middle East?

My Lords, that question is very wide-ranging but I think that the debate after Question Time will help to answer it for the noble Baroness.