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Everything you need to know about the World Humanitarian Summit

World Humanitarian Summit

Ever heard of the World Humanitarian Summit? If not, this is your lucky day.

In preparation for this article I spent some time researching the summit by reviewing the website. What I found was a lot of needed facts and figures, but also a lot of jargon, so I contacted the spokeswoman for the preparations for the summit to get an insider’s perspective on the big event. Breanna Ridsdel works in Strategic Communications and Advocacy at the UN Office of Coordination Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA for short), and she was more than kind to have a phone interview with me. Though the interview was interrupted by an awkward call drop, our conversation went really well and Ms. Ridsdel was able to give me the basic low down on this summit and why we, global citizens, should be a part of it as well, especially in preparations leading up the summit.

But first, here are some things you need to know:

What is it?

The World Humanitarian Summit is an initiative by the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to gather intel from all over the world to find out what and how to go about saving and protecting more people from the impact of natural disasters and conflicts.

Where?

The summit itself will take place in Istanbul May 2016.

Who?

The summit is inviting global leaders from governments, businesses, and civil society.

Why?

To look at finding new ways to save more lives and to protect people from the impact of natural disasters and conflicts. But really, why? Because we have more people displaced than at any point in time since World War II. Today there are 33 million people who are internally displaced. This year alone, OCHA is looking to support close to 60 million people who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

Whew that was a lot. OK, time for the interview:

Joline: Ms. Ridsdel, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Tell me, what is the role the summit plays within international development?

Ms. Ridsdel: This summit is focusing on humanitarian action, specifically assistance and protection provided for people in the aftermath of a crisis to help them cope with the consequences of conflicts or disasters.

This particular summit is focusing essentially on people who are often left out of the development process. Because we all know that humanitarian crises can hurt and reverse development progress sometimes setting it back by decades, so this summit is focusing on people that are mainly excluded from these development processes either because the country in which they live are in the middle of violent conflict, or simply because they have been affected by a natural disaster that’s caused this breakdown of the development structure.

Joline: That’s very interesting. And how are the preparations for the summit going so far?

Ms. Ridsdel: In preparation for the summit, the Secretary General has asked the UN Office of Coordination Humanitarian Affairs to go around the world to host consultations in all regions of the world to find out what are the things that people think need to change and to gather their ideas on how we can deal with some of these pressing challenges.

So at this point, we’ve just completed 5 out of 8 regional consultations, where we’re inviting on a regional level, all different representatives from government, civil society, NGOs, volunteer networks, local businesses, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, religious networks, and also, really critically we’ve contacted the people themselves who have been affected by conflicts and disasters, to come together and engage in conversation and to come around to discuss what they would like to see happening in the future.

We still have 3 different regions to go. We’re also hosting a whole series of consultations with the private sector, young people, people with disabilities, faith-based actors, military actors who are engaged in humanitarian response, and a number of other people, so a lot of consultations.

So far, the consultation process has gone really well. What’s unique about this process is the diversity of people that it brings together.

Source: WHS website

Joline: Wow, that’s really inclusive. Of the consultations that have happened, what kind of suggestions have been made?

Ms. Ridsdel: Because we haven’t completed the consultations yet, it’s too early for us to really start making proclamations as to what’s coming out of the consultations but there are a few things that are emerging as a really strong theme. One of the really strong themes that’s coming out so far is the notion that we need to put people affected by crises at the center of humanitarian response. We need to find better ways to enable them to have much more control and as much choice as possible over the types of responses that they get after a disaster, so that might mean the types of goods or services that they receive that hopefully also mean more of a choice as to what happens for their future.

Joline: What kind of contributions have been made thus far? How will they be implemented post-summit?

Ms. Ridsdel: We really need to see what will come out of the summit first. That will shape how contributions will be implemented, there are really a lot of stakeholders in humanitarian actions and so each one of those different stakeholders is going to have to provide their recommendations in a different way. It's too early in the process to tell now. We do hope that some of the implementation will continue in the inclusive spirit of the summit.

We’ve already seen some new ideas being implemented after our regional consultations, in the spirit of cooperation and partnership that have brought people together at the regional consultations. And, furthermore, some places have already led for people to launch new initiatives and to start working together just after the regional consultations. We certainly hope that we’re going to see more of that.

We’re definitely looking for the summit as a place to showcase some of the experiences that have happened already and also we’re expecting to be able to launch new partnerships and innovative initiatives at the summit that also will shape the implementation of the recommendations.

Joline: 2015 is a special year with the SDGs and the Climate conference in Paris, how is the summit’s work impacted by this?

Ms. Ridsdel: The recommendations and the outcomes of the WHS are definitely going to be impacted by these much broader global processes. The humanitarian world is a very specific and very focused world. And humanitarian action happens within a broader context of a changing climate, of the search for sustainable development, and of other global changes in technology and interconnectedness for example, so the processes that are happening this year in 2015 and the frameworks that they set up are definitely going to have an impact on the summit.

Joline: What can individuals (that means you guys–global citizens!) do to support these activities and goals? How can they participate?

Ms. Ridsdel: There are  a couple of different ways for individuals to get involved. The first thing that individuals can do is visit our website, visit our social media: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, they can sign up to receive our newsletter.

People who are looking  to get a little more involved can volunteer with us. We have a program for what we call our digital advocates- we’re looking for motivated individuals to help spread the word about the summit, to get involved with us, to use their personal networks or online networks, to rally more people for this cause and raise awareness of people who are affected by humanitarian crises. So volunteering with us is something that we really encourage people to do. Finally, individuals can contribute to our online discussions. So as we host these consultations in person, we also host virtual forums associated with each consultation and we have online discussions and we solicit feedback from the online community around the key issues that are affecting each region and global issues. Anyone can sign up and post in our discussion forums– about what their ideas are, what they think needs to change, what they would like to see happening, what they would like to see different in the world after the WHS.

Joline: To wrap up, how do you describe the world in 2030?

Ms. Ridsdel: In 2030, what I would hope to see is a global community that is working together and that is making sure that people are not left to suffer from the impacts of conflicts or disasters.


Well, don’t we all! In terms of displaced persons, (i.e. refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, etc) they face a lot of hardships that we do not think about. Refer to this article, written by my awesome colleague, Christina Nunez, to learn more in-depth about some of the barriers these communities face.

This summit is very important. Not only does it include and consult those who are actually experiencing these hardships (really, who better to ask than those affected by it...?) but it will be up to date and will look for more innovative ways to better enable those affected. I for one can’t wait to see what comes out of it.