International community meets in Geneva to set course for future humanitarian action

Article, 13.10.2015

A lengthy consultation process will culminate in a meeting of the international community in Geneva from 14 to 16 October 2015 with the aim of defining the principles of tomorrow's humanitarian action. The discussions will serve as a basis for the World Humanitarian Summit planned for May 2016 in Istanbul. The need to place the victims of disasters and conflict at the centre of all humanitarian action is a top priority.

With the aid of a diagram, an SDC expert consults around 50 Sri Lankan villagers to find out what rebuilding work is needed.
All humanitarian stakeholders agree that it is absolutely vital to give victims of disasters and conflict a central role, as the SDC has done with its reconstruction programme in Sri Lanka. © SDC

The main thrusts of humanitarian action for the future could be decided in Geneva. From 14 to 16 October 2015, the lakeside city will welcome more than 500 representatives of governments, international humanitarian organisations and civil society to finalise the input for the World Humanitarian Summit scheduled to take place in Istanbul in May 2016.

The Global Consultation in Geneva will mark the end of an intensive process of regional and thematic consultations conducted across 151 countries in 2014 and 2015. It is particularly significant in the context of the United Nations adopting the new 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda.

Assistance and protection needs rising fast

Why do we need to reform humanitarian action? The facts of the problem are well known: as the number and extent of humanitarian crises around the world grow, assistance and protection needs are rising fast. The range of threats faced (armed conflict, climate change, epidemics etc.) is also increasing, and they are becoming more and more global in scope. It is estimated that 80 million people are currently dependent on humanitarian aid, 60 million of whom have had to flee their homes for one reason or another.

Against this backdrop, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a new agenda for humanitarian action to be drawn up. He tasked the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) with collecting innovative ideas in time for the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. This led to the biggest worldwide debate ever organised on the principles of humanitarian aid, with some 23,000 representatives of governments, international organisations, NGOs and local communities sharing their visions – not forgetting the opportunity for members of the general public to submit their views online.

Five action areas

The proposals received number in the thousands and range from highly specific to fundamental. All suggestions were classified into five priority action areas, each of which will be dealt with in dedicated workshops at the Geneva meeting.

  • Dignity: ensuring the dignity of people affected by disasters and conflicts by placing them at the centre of humanitarian action.
  • Safety: guaranteeing the protection of conflict victims and the aid workers that help them by adhering strictly to international humanitarian law and searching for political solutions.
  • Resilience: maximising people’s capacity for dealing with crises by incorporating into humanitarian action more long-term projects for development and for conflict and disaster prevention.
  • Partnerships: developing enhanced synergies between stakeholders, local communities included, centred on the core values of humanitarian action (humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence).
  • Finance: diversifying sources of funding and endeavouring to use funds more efficiently to respond to growing humanitarian needs.

Switzerland has taken on an instrumental role with regard to these priorities. Having provided financial and technical support for the consultation process, it will have the honour of co-chairing the planned discussions in Geneva together with OCHA.

Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter and Manuel Bessler, Head of Swiss Humanitarian Aid, will have the opportunity to recount a number of Switzerland's enlightening experiences from the past few years. These include the SDC's money transfer or "cash" programmes, support given to women's groups all over the world and the discussion on people displaced by natural disasters and climate change under the aegis of the Nansen Initiative.

Helping victims to get back on their feet

In all of the projects it supports and in its own advocacy work, Switzerland endeavours to stress the central role those affected by humanitarian crises must play. This approach entails giving the people concerned responsibility over their own rehabilitation while guaranteeing them access to various essentials such as gainful employment and adequate housing.

In Sri Lanka, distributing financial aid to more than 15,000 families affected by the tsunami and the civil war helped them to repair or rebuild their homes in line with their specific needs.

Permanent housing for people affected by conflict in northern Sri Lanka

In Lebanon, the SDC paid out USD 100-150 a month to more than 2,800 Lebanese families between 2012 and 2014 to allow them to accommodate Syrian refugees.

Cash support for families hosting Syrian refugees in Libya

In Darfur (Sudan), the SDC is contributing to the revival of the traditional local occupation of beekeeping in order to give displaced people a chance to earn money.

In various countries (Great Lakes region, South Sudan, Myanmar etc.), the SDC is supporting NGOs that provide women who are victims of sexual violence with medical, pyschosocial and legal aid.

The Nansen Initiative, jointly chaired by Switzerland and Norway, has spent three years drawing up a protection agenda for people displaced across borders in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change. The document puts forward a number of specific recommendations for dealing with the challenge of displaced people, legal instruments aimed at protecting them and measures for preventing disasters with a view to reducing migratory flows.

Disasters: what can be done to protect displaced people?