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World Humanitarian Summit

Volume 611: debated on Thursday 26 May 2016

I would like to update the House on my recent visit to the world humanitarian summit, where I headed the UK delegation.

The world humanitarian summit took place from 23 to 24 May in Istanbul. It was the first global summit on humanitarian issues, and came at a time of unprecedented need: around the world, 60 million people have been forced from their homes and 37 million children out of school in conflict-affected countries.

The summit was truly global, bringing together participants from Governments, the private sector, civil society and non-governmental organisations. Leaders welcomed the UN Secretary-General’s agenda for humanity as well as his five priority areas: global leadership to prevent and end conflicts; upholding the norms that safeguard humanity; leaving no one behind, moving from delivering aid to ending need; and investing in humanity.

It was one of a number of important events this year, including February’s supporting Syria and the region conference in London and the UN Secretary-General’s high-level meeting on refugees and migrants and the Obama summit on global refugees in September. The summit was a key moment following the global goals agreed last year, galvanising political attention on how to better serve those most affected by conflict, extreme poverty and environmental change.

At the summit I was able to demonstrate UK leadership in addressing global crises and advance our UK objectives to:

Secure a new approach to protracted crises, including situations of long-term displacement of large numbers of people. The UK effectively built on the important legacy from the successful supporting Syria and the region conference in February, scaling up the approach that the UK pioneered in the Syria region as a global model for protracted crisis and displacement—going beyond people’s basic needs and investing in education, jobs and livelihoods. As part of this, alongside existing commitments to Syrian children, I committed an extra £30 million of support to a new joint fund for education in emergencies which was launched at the summit to help make sure no child misses out on an education. The Education Cannot Wait fund aims to reach more than 13.6 million young people living in emergency situations with quality education over the next five years, and all crisis-affected young people by 2030.

Strengthen commitment to the protection of civilians in conflict. I reaffirmed the UK’s commitment to compliance with International humanitarian law and ending impunity, galvanising support on protection of the medical mission and preventing sexual violence in conflict. There was strong consensus amongst participants that a lack of compliance is causing significant levels of suffering and displacement, as well as prolonging conflict. There was widespread agreement that conflict resolution and protection of civilians are the only sustainable solutions. We will now need to build quickly on this momentum.

Call for a reformed humanitarian system, including smarter financing. The summit marked the beginning of a new relationship between the humanitarian and development communities, with widespread agreement of the need to work together better. The UK led the way to secure agreement to a “Grand Bargain” on more efficient humanitarian financing. This will change the way donors and agencies do business, including by adopting common standards to put affected people at the centre of the response, streamlining reporting systems and increasing the use of cash-based approaches in crisis situations. UN agencies pledged a more systematic use of shared analysis and planning. The UK, alongside other partners, will continue to drive this reform agenda in the months and years ahead.

Ensure a stronger focus on protecting and empowering women and girls in crises. I also committed to put gender equality at the heart of 21st-century humanitarian action, going beyond protection and making sure girls and women have a voice, choice, and control—even when crisis hits.

Overall, the summit was a success with widespread agreement that the humanitarian system needs to reform and an emerging consensus on the way forward, in particular a renewed commitment to compliance with international humanitarian law. Improving the architecture to tackle forced displacement and migration was a major theme running throughout the summit as was the need to ensure the most vulnerable are not left behind: girls and women, youth and people with disabilities. A more effective and efficient global humanitarian system will help to build global security and prosperity—which will, in turn, help advance the security and prosperity interests of the UK.

The summit provided us with a compelling agenda for change—now we need to deliver. We will hold participants to their commitments, particularly the UN, and renew our efforts to roll out a new approach in crisis-affected countries.