Turkey is one of the leading nations in the world when it comes to offering financial aid to worldwide humanitarian efforts so it is fitting that gateway city Istanbul has been chosen to host the inaugural UN World Humanitarian Summit. On the 23rd and 24th of May, world leaders will meet at the Istanbul Congress Centre and the Mufti Kirdar Convention Centre, to stand for common humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering. As the brainchild of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the summit will also feature an ‘Exhibition Fair’ which will promote all of the good work, products and programmes of governments and independent organisations that have been introduced in the past few years in support of humanitarian action with a special emphasis placed on small-scale innovations with high impact from under-represented communities.
2012 marked the introduction of this humanitarian initiative, in the wake of an ever growing need to address worldwide major humanitarian crises. With devastating natural disasters regularly making international news and a world living in a time of war, nowhere more so than Syria at the moment, we live in an age where it is necessary for the world’s leaders to address how to look after humanity. It is a huge concern that the great majority of humanitarian crises are conflict-related and continue to create an unlivable world for so many people. Today alone, a staggering 125 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance around the globe. The world is witnessing the highest level of human suffering since the Second World War and so the UN has called for humanitarian efforts to a high priority, believing that all human beings deserve to feel safe, to live a dignified life and to thrive in their everyday life; the impending summit aims to bring humanity to the forefront.
The UN’s agenda for humanity believes in 5 core responsibilities; To prevent and end conflict, to respect the rules of war, to leave no one behind, to work differently to end need and to invest in humanity. The summit has 3 main goals; To re-inspire and reinvigorate a commitment to humanity and to the universality of humanitarian principles, to initiate a set of concrete actions and commitments aimed at enabling countries and communities to better prepare for and respond to crises and to be resilient to shocks and to share best practices which can help to save lives around the world, putting affected people at the centre of humanitarian action, alleviating suffering.
Work began nearly two years ago with a series of consultations across the world where humanitarians worked together to identify key problems and create recommendations for addressing humanitarian needs and finding resolutions. The consultations also offered a networking opportunity for those involved to build contacts in order to coordinate important work after the conclusion of the World Humanitarian Summit. Since June 2014, consultations have taken place globally, involving every country in the world. The work completed in advance of the meet in Istanbul has been significant in setting a schedule for the summit.
It will be a busy couple of days in Istanbul for everybody involved. The main summit programme will include High-Level Leaders’ Roundtables on priority action areas outlined in the Secretary General’s report, special sessions on specific thematic areas and a summit announcement plenary for member states and other stakeholders to announce action commitments. Just some of the issues being discussed at the summit include the effectiveness of political leadership in preventing and ending conflict, gender equality, natural disasters and climate change and providing assistance and ending need with investment and humanitarian financing. There will also be an array of side events alongside the main programme organised by various stakeholders, including briefings, seminars, workshops and panel discussions. An ‘Innovation Marketplace’ will showcase the practical applications of innovations, services and processes that contribute to effective humanitarian action.
It is particularly fitting that Istanbul is hosting the event as Turkey currently struggles with its own difficulties. Istanbul in particular is not a stranger to dealing with conflict and is a city which can empathise with the efforts of the UN. But the Republic of Turkey has never been a stranger to the humanitarian cause. In 2012 alone Turkey contributed $1 billion in humanitarian aid and this figure is ever increasing. In 2014 Turkey was the world’s third largest donor spending a total of $1.6 billion on relief projects with $940 million spent on the Syrian refugees within its borders. Currently with nearly 3 million Syrian refugees in Turkey and that number set to rise substantially in the wake of the refugee migrant deal with the EU which was just declared a huge success by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other EU officials.
All Syrians in Turkey are currently entitled to an AFAD card issued by the government which guarantees them free health care and education for their children. The refugee camps are far from squalid, with fantastic facilities, immaculately clean streets and container homes well equipped with hot water, fully functioning kitchens and a TV. The Turkish government is doing its utmost to make the Syrian families arriving in Turkey feel at home, aiming to gradually integrate them into communities across the country.
In advance of the UN World Humanitarian Summit, Turkey is a shining example of how to deal with a humanitarian crisis. When discussing why Istanbul had been chosen to host the summit UN Secretary general, Ban Ki-moon highlighted Turkey’s important contribution at national, regional and global levels, especially to the humanitarian issues as well as historical characteristics. The logistic capabilities of the city of Istanbul had also played a role in the decision. Turkey’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Ahmet Davutoğlu has said that Turkey will mobilise all of its capabilities for the success of the summit and that international diplomacy and organisations aim to serve humanity. He also stated that Istanbul aims to be the centre that brings together UN offices on the international community’s issues which are to be discussed at the summit’s High-Level Leaders’ Roundtables, including issues of mediation and peace activities.
In the past two decades, 218 million people each year were affected by disasters at an annual cost to the global economy that now exceeds $300 billion. The UN World Humanitarian Summit is a call to action by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as he invites the world to come together as one to change the landscape of humanitarian action and to address some of the most critical issues of our time. The UN couldn’t have picked a better suited city to host this event. Apart from Turkey’s leading position in humanitarian aid, Istanbul connects Europe to Asia and is a cosmopolitan city which has much to offer its visitors. Turkey is also in the midst of a successful humanitarian aid programme and Istanbul itself is still dealing with recent loss and conflict, providing a stark reminder to those attending the UN World Humanitarian Summit that anywhere and anyone could be victim to events that lead to need, support and financial aid. If any city can convince the world that something must be done, and more importantly can be done, it is Istanbul.