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World Humanitarian Summit: Together, we can make it matter for the people we serve

While the humanitarian crisis in Iraq shows no sign of easing up, it’s a major challenge for agencies operating in the country to get help to those desperately in need. © European Union/ECHO/Caroline Gluck

The World Humanitarian Summit, taking place on 23-24 May 2016 in Istanbul, will bring together for the first time ever all international humanitarian stakeholders to discuss and reshape the global humanitarian system for the years to come.

The European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) is hosting a blog series dedicated to the humanitarian challenges of our times in view of the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit's discussions. The blog series features testimonies, guest comments and analyses from humanitarians around the world, partner organisations, experts, academics and EU representatives who reflect upon the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian action and draw from their personal humanitarian experience.  

EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, Christos Stylianides has written the first blog post.

Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management

Christos Stylianides, EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management @StylianidesEU

With the first World Humanitarian Summit just over half a year away, the global discussion on how to improve humanitarian action is gaining momentum. Humanitarian crises have increased dramatically in number, complexity and severity in recent years. 60 million people are displaced worldwide – more than ever before. Over 250 million people are either affected by or exposed to conflicts or natural disasters. In many parts of the world, crisis and conflict are "the new normal". This trend has led to unprecedented human suffering and a level of humanitarian needs outpacing the available resources and the capacity to respond. Today, the humanitarian system is being challenged to do more, for more people, and at greater cost. This is why the UN Secretary General has called on us, the international community, to establish a global consensus reaffirming the principles of humanitarian aid and strengthening humanitarian action.

As EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management, I have many times witnessed the terrible consequences of humanitarian tragedies first-hand. During my visit earlier this year to Kirkuk, in northern Iraq, I met Fahimah, a mother of two. She told me that they had just survived the odyssey of fleeing from al-Anbar. To find safety, they had to go on a dangerous journey across deserts and checkpoints, manned by a myriad of hostile armed groups, threatened by the brutality of warring parties. You probably already know: Iraq is the second biggest humanitarian crisis worldwide after Syria.

"As EU, we have significantly increased our humanitarian assistance to Iraq in 2015."

But more needs to be done. Fahimah’s story is not unique, it is the story of hundreds of thousands of families, throughout the country, throughout the region, where the humanitarian response is still underfunded, and where reaching people in need and making sure they are safe are huge challenges.

Violence and insecurity are big problems for the humanitarian community as it tries to reach people in need. Especially people in disputed, hard-to-reach or conflict-affected areas. As conflicts spread, there is a real risk  that millions of people are left without water, food, shelter, protection or basic health services.

What does this mean for the World Humanitarian Summit? It means we have to make a collective push to put International Humanitarian Law at the top of the international political agenda. To get acceptance for principled, collective and responsible humanitarian action.

In May 2016, the humanitarian community has a historic chance to come together and reshape the way aid is delivered. To make it more effective and efficient. To build solid partnerships, between affected people, humanitarian actors, governments, civil society and the private sector. To make sure humanitarian agencies work together and do not duplicate each other's efforts: from joint needs assessments to joined-up appeals with solid prioritisation, through transparent monitoring – making sure every dollar and euro is well spent. Donors like the EU can also help make the system more efficient: by streamlining reporting requirements; or by making funding more flexible. There also needs to be much closer coordination between development and humanitarian actors: working in silos, we can never hope to meet the massive needs generated by the many crises in the world.

These refinements are much needed and they are the minimum we should achieve in the summit to maintain the viability of current humanitarian systems. But step-changing the humanitarian field can only happen by raising the World Humanitarian Summit's substance (and attendance) to the highest political level.

"The world has changed and our strategies need to catch up!"

The Summit is a personal priority for me. We cannot afford to let this one-in-a-generation opportunity slip past. We owe it to the millions of people out there whose lives have been affected by conflicts and disasters.