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United Nations World Humanitarian Summit

Volume 771: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government who will represent the United Kingdom at the United Nations World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul in May.

My Lords, the UK is committed to making the World Humanitarian Summit a success and we will send high-level representation to Istanbul. We are progressing a strong agenda for humanitarian reform, including a new approach to protracted crises. Last week we hosted a forum at Wilton Park on protracted displacement and at the end of this week we will co-host, with the World Bank, the third grand bargain Sherpa event in Washington DC.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has stressed that this summit, the first of its kind in the 70-year history of the United Nations, has to deal with the urgency of these complex challenges and the scale of the suffering that we see around the globe. He has called on global leaders to,

“act decisively, with compassion and resolve”.

Given that the UK is one of the biggest donors of development aid to humanitarian crises around the world, and given that the British public have consistently shown a generosity that is unmatched in most of the world, will the Prime Minister take a lead and attend the summit? It might give him a slight distraction from some of his current troubles.

My Lords, UN member states have agreed that the summit in Istanbul must reinforce the outcomes of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris agreement on climate change. Therefore, will the Government be ready at the summit to commit to action, subject to mutual parliamentary scrutiny and accountability, in what will be the first major opportunity to give meaning to the principle of “Leave no one behind”?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. This is a very important summit. It will tackle a lot of issues, including the agreements that were reached at Sendai and Paris, to ensure that those strong linkages between the disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation agendas continue. On the wider point, it is about making sure that the reforms that are required to ensure preparedness for future crises are also part of the bigger reform agenda. As I said, we also need to encourage other partners and donors and the private sector to step up to the mark.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the British representative at the humanitarian summit will be able, by virtue of having met our commitment to the 0.7% GDP target, to give a lead to others, and that it is very important that we give that lead in May? Does she also agree that one of the projects that we should take on with our commitment of future resources is to increase the supply of expert humanitarian aid co-ordinators so that there is a corps in place not only for dealing with crises when they happen but of sufficient numbers that they can stay in place and help with the recovery from crises in some of the most desperate areas?

I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for the points he has raised, particularly on the 0.7% commitment that we have managed to embed and deliver. He is also right that we need to prepare ourselves for future crises but also help build resilience in infrastructure in countries that really need it, particularly in their health systems. My noble friend is absolutely right that we need to make sure that we not only support people with the skills but prepare people locally to have those skills.

My Lords, in his pre-summit report, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, the United Nations Secretary-General urges world leaders not to underestimate or, worse, override the work of local organisations in dealing with humanitarian crises, because they are the best placed to shape programmes in culturally sensitive ways, as we saw in the Ebola crisis. Yet currently only 0.02% of humanitarian aid is passed through local organisations. Can the Minister reassure us that at the summit—whoever represents us—the Government will support the call made by leading NGOs to raise this to 20%? Will that be part of the new approach of which she speaks?

My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is right that we need to ensure that we do not miss out on the local support groups on the ground. We have a mixture of packages. There is some work that the multilaterals are better placed to do. Of course, as the right reverend Prelate said, it is also important that local-led community groups are properly supported. DfID support will be there to ensure that not only are we urging others to step up to the mark to support these local groups but we are doing that ourselves.

My Lords, when the Minister last referred to the Istanbul summit in this House, she mentioned that one of the themes on the agenda would be the protection of civilian populations. Would Her Majesty’s Government be willing to table an item on the agenda in Istanbul about the need to protect the civilian interpreters in conflict zones?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a point that is well above my own pay grade but I will take that back to the department.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the summit is an opportunity to focus on making humanitarian action more effective and inclusive and, as Ban Ki-moon has said—I, too, quote him—“to transform the lives” of those who are most at risk and in danger of being “left behind”? Does she agree that it is a potential turning point in our ability to prevent and end crises, and to tackle vulnerability?

Yes, my Lords, the noble Baroness sums it up rather well. It is an opportunity, but one that we must all take. The UK has often been at the forefront of it all. We really need to push harder for other donors to step up to the mark, but also to involve the private sector and strengthen the civil society organisations on the ground.

My Lords, clearly the focus at the summit will be on the Middle East and Syria but there are of course unfolding crises throughout the world, particularly in the east of Africa. The Minister mentioned the Sendai framework. Can she tell us a bit more about how committed the UK Government are to ensuring that this framework is properly operated, and will she continue to support the European Union’s efforts to ensure that it is implemented?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right that we must not take our eye off any crises. As demonstrated by the department in which I have the privilege of being a Minister, we have shown that leadership. We have provided an extra £150 million to prepare for and mitigate the impact of some of the crises caused by the El Niño-related climate shocks in Africa. But, again, we cannot do things on our own; we really need to get others to support strongly the work that we in the UK Government are doing. I agree with the noble Lord, but we need others to be reminded constantly that they have a duty, too.