A decade ago, how many of us would believe that by 2015 nearly 88 million people worldwide would be in need of humanitarian aid with this figure still growing and growing?
Perhaps nothing encapsulates the enormous challenges facing humanitarian work today so well as protracted displacement. Today, approximately 60 million people are forced away from their homes as a result of conflict and violence – remaining displaced for an average of 17 years.
The international humanitarian system alone cannot cope with such challenges, despite the record generosity of donors. For 2016, the European Commission has approved the highest budget ever for life-saving relief in response to man-made and natural disasters – with nearly a €1.1 billion initial allocation.
However, the sheer scale of today's displacement crises is putting political systems and civil society to the test, from the Middle East to the heart of Europe. We need to ask ourselves if our current modus operandi is fit for purpose. The answer that has transpired from the consultation processes in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit is a resounding "no".
"Business as usual is no longer enough."
We need to recognise fully that all individuals – be they migrants or refugees – are entitled to protection and that migratory flows, if properly managed, contribute positively to societies. We need to help build innovative approaches to end aid dependency. And we need to offer more support to host countries and local communities who shoulder the lion's share of this burden.
As Director General of the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department, I have recently witnessed the difficulties of the South Sudanese who have fled in search of protection and assistance both internally and in neighbouring countries. During my visit to Wau Shilluk, a town located in the upper Nile State in South Sudan, I saw first-hand the dedication and professionalism of our humanitarian partner organisations that – with financial support from the EU – help the most vulnerable, irrespective of their nationality, religion, gender, ethnic origin or political affiliation.
This work is necessary, it is principled, it saves lives – but it is not enough. Humanitarian aid can only be a short-term solution. It can alleviate suffering, but it doesn't tackle the root causes. Humanitarian aid does not prevent or end conflicts. Other actors need to do their part as well. The immensity of the suffering can only stop if all belligerents are willing to lay down their weapons and look for a peaceful, enduring solution. Such solutions will only materialise in cooperation.
It is my hope that the World Humanitarian Summit will launch and solidify partnerships between development, humanitarian and political actors; between the private sector and public finance; between new and traditional donors.
"Now is the time for bold thinking and changing exiting systems."
In Istanbul in May this year, we will be asked to give a new meaning to the words 'innovation', 'ambition' and 'accountability'. We have the chance to collectively redefine what principled and effective humanitarian action should look like in the 21st century. We stand ready to do our part. We will not waste this historic opportunity.