The first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) took place in Istanbul, Turkey on May 23-24 2016. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon arranged the summit around five key themes: Preventing and ending conflict, respecting the rules of war, leaving no one behind on the sustainable development agenda, and working differently to end need and investing in humanity.

Disaster Accountability Project Executive Director Ben Smilowitz — hoping the event would result in concrete commitments to improve transparency and accountability in the aftermath of natural and humanitarian disasters — traveled to Turkey to participate in the two-day summit. With more than 9,000 participants from 173 countries representing national governments, private business and civil society, the gathering was impressive in scope and an important first step toward creating a more robust, global humanitarian system.

One of the main outcomes,“The Grand Bargain,” included a promise to increasing funding to local and national agencies from less than 2 percent now to 25 percent by 2020. Also encouraging was the launch of NEAR (Network for Empowered Aid Response), a consortium of local and national organizations from across the globe that will work together to “reshape the top-down humanitarian and development system so it is locally driven and owned.”

However, the near complete absence of heads of state; failure to address the root political causes of humanitarian crises; empty platitudes to future goals without any sign of action now to create immediate change; business-as-usual approach to decision-making that culminated in an array of non-binding commitments; and channeling of new funding to the predictable list of large international NGOs, meant that the summit fell far short of DAP’s expectations.

Perhaps most frustrating was the organizer’s failure to specify exact next steps in the process. With vague promises of ensuring continued momentum through gatherings at the UN ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment in June and U.S. President Barack Obama’s Leaders Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis in September, WHS participants packed up and left Istanbul.

It is now one and a half months after the summit. The UN ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment, which was supposed to focus on how the outcome of the WHS will help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, has come and gone without much of a splash. Speaking at the meeting, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson urged action, “There is no room for delays; every day and week counts,” and indicated that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon would soon propose ways to “maintain momentum to advance the Agenda for Humanity.”

DAP will continue contributing to this discussion and working to bring solutions to the table. Meanwhile, please find below a roundup of various views of leaders and experts on the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul:

The Good

Ban Ki Moon, the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, made these remarks in the closing part of the summit. “The World Humanitarian Summit has been a unique event, in form as well as substance. We have the wealth, knowledge and awareness to take better care of one another. But we need action, based on the five core responsibilities of the Agenda for Humanity.”

United Nations News Centre – WHS: Humanitarian summit has ‘set new course,’ says Ban, calling for action on commitments

Herve Verhoosel, the summit’s spokesperson said that “It’s the first time in 70 years of UN history that a summit has been organised to talk about humanitarian issues. Today we’re living in the worst humanitarian situation since world war two – we have 125 million people in need of humanitarian support in the world. Can we cope with that situation working the same way we do today, or do we need to change it? That’s why the secretary general has called this conference.”

The Guardian – Everything you need to know about the world humanitarian summit

Justine Greening, the Secretary of State for International Development who represented the United Kingdom government, had these words about the summit. “The Summit was a success with widespread agreement that the humanitarian system needs to reform and an emerging consensus on the way forward, in particular a renewed commitment to compliance with International Humanitarian Law.”

Parliament UK – World Humanitarian Summit: Written Statement

Manual Bessler, a Humanitarian aid official from Switzerland, had this to say at the conclusion of the two day summit. “It was a chance for all actors present to meet, develop their network and share experiences. It was a huge opportunity for networking and sharing experiences. Of course you can wonder if it was worth holding a summit just for networking. But this conference is a beginning. And naturally we have to see what will be the follow-up to all the various commitments.”

IRIN – The World Humanitarian Summit: winners and losers

Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International, said The event had its successes: it supported momentum for local leadership and included the voices of local civil society organisations and activists; there was recognition of women’s empowerment as a right; some richer countries including Norway and Germany increased financial commitments while Denmark renewed its humanitarian strategy; there was notable progress on education, efficient humanitarian financing, and the ‘Grand Bargain’ which will give more power and funds to local frontline NGOs.”

Oxfam International – Some progress at World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul – but world leaders fail to deliver the goods

“We face huge issues, from the consequences of El Nino to the war in Syria and the refugee crisis, that we can only solve by working in better and smarter ways together,” said Helle Thorning-Schmidt, CEO of Save the Children International. “This summit was a step down that road.”

Reuters – Aid experts give first World Humanitarian Summit mixed report card

Nancy Lindborg, President of the U.S. Institute of Peace, commented on how “this summit for the first time put politics and poor governance at the heart of today’s crises, peacebuilding is no longer the domain of just governments and diplomats.”

United States Institute of Peace – Humanitarian Aid: ‘Radical Change’ After Istanbul?

The WHS is “reinforcing and accelerating a pivot”, said Jeremy Konyndyk, director of the Office for US Foreign Disaster Assistance, “towards a system that is focused more on that and can address that in a more coherent and systematic way.”  

IRIN –  Aid and Policy The World Humanitarian Summit: winners and losers

Aaron Packard, the Climate Impact coordinator for gave his thoughts. “While much of the work around adaptation and redress for loss and damage from climate change has developed through the United Nations climate talks, the summit progressed some global mechanisms that are critical for confronting the impacts of climate change. During the summit, a collection of governments launched the Platform on Disaster Displacement, which aims to address the protection needs of people displaced across borders by disasters and climate change impacts. This platform will provide important support to governments to adequately prepare for such displacement.”

Huffington Post – What the World Humanitarian Summit Means for Climate Change

Giuilo Coppi, who has more than 8 years worth of humanitarian experience in South America, West and Central Africa, was quoted as saying “As I said recently in an interview with the International Peace Institute’s Global Observatory, the WHS did what had to be done, in the given conditions: the humanitarian system may not be broke nor broken, but it surely needs a thorough revision. At the Summit, the humanitarian actors completed a long-overdue first step moving from soul-searching to re-shaping.”

IIHA – Giulio Coppi Reflects on WHS: “A good Humanitarian Summit, but for peacetime”

Following the summit, Deloitte Global Chairman David Cruickshank wrote: “The imperative to act is not only a moral responsibility or a societal need; there is a “business case” as well. At Deloitte, we continue to explore new solutions and collaborations to make an impact on some of the most complex crises of our time—be it through the clients served or societal efforts pursued. I expect that the discussions, connections and commitments made at the Summit will lead to more cross-sector actions to affect positive change.”

Deloitte participates in World Humanitarian Summit

The Bad

Ban Ki Moon also criticized leaders who did not attend the summit. “The absence of these leaders from this meeting does not provide an excuse for inaction. They have a unique responsibility to pursue peace and stability, and to support the most vulnerable.”

Reuters – Aid experts give first World Humanitarian Summit mixed report card

Sara Pantuliano, the managing director from the Overseas Development Institute, in her closing comments described her disappointment in that the commitments that had been made had fallen “short in substance and ambition.”

World Economic Forum – How do we create a humanitarian system fit for today – and tomorrow?

Jason Cone, the executive director from Médecins Sans Frontières USA who boycotted the summit, described how “without Syria, Russia and Iran at the discussion tables, any solution to the Syrian crisis, particularly humanitarian aid access, seems unlikely. Saudi Arabia’s absence leaves little hope for progress on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.” 

News Deeply – Comment: World Humanitarian Summit Roundup

Paul Currion, a migration consultant, said “The report of the secretary-general for the WHS starts promisingly with a commitment to reduce the number of IDPs globally by 50 percent by 2030 – but then it moves to discussing refugees rather than IDPs, and that’s when the proposals become increasingly vague. This is extremely disappointing, considering that the WHS consultations – an unprecedented worldwide series of eight regional consultations involving more than 23,000 people and more than 400 written submissions – expressed a clear need for “a new international cooperation framework on predictable and equitable sharing of responsibility to respond to large-scale refugee movements.”

News Deeply – Comment: World Humanitarian Summit Roundup

Karl Blanchet, Co-coordinator of Public Health in Humanitarian Crisis gave his reaction. “The World Humanitarian Summit marks the end of a long consultation process organised in every region of the world on the most pressing priorities for the future. Sadly, the process has probably been more important than the Summit itself as no real new discussion occurred in Istanbul.” London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Oxfam GB’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, gave his reaction to the summit. “This summit needs to be more than an expensive talking shop by tackling the repeated failure of governments to resolve conflicts and end the culture of impunity in which civilians are killed without consequence.”

The Guardian – World humanitarian summit starts amid hope, hype and fear of empty words

Michelle Higelin, Co-chair of ActionAid’s International Humanitarian Platform said “For more than twenty years, promises to achieve gender equality have been made by the international community, and the World Humanitarian Summit was a moment to deliver on those promises. Unfortunately, they have failed to do so. We’ve continued to hear about commitments to gender equality from member states and UN agencies, but very few concrete action plans on how they’re going to deliver.”

Action Aid – World Humanitarian Summit’s success will be determined by women in years to come

Gareth Price Jones, CARE International Senior Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy Coordinator said on meeting summit aims. “We were pleased to see that the Secretary General called for an intergovernmental process, and berated leaders who did not attend. The lack of a clear roadmap on the big, political issues had undermined the real progress made around how aid is funded and delivered.”

Care International – Disappointing end to a positive World Humanitarian Summit

Fadi Halliso, the CEO and co-founder of Basmeh and Zeitooneh, an organization serving Syrian refugees in Turkey and Lebanon explained his displeasure at what had been agreed at the summit. “I do not share the optimism about the summit expressed by others on this panel. We go from conferences to workshops to summits where amazing pledges are made, and very little takes place. There is a lot of nice talk about empowering local actors. This is not happening.”

United States Institute of Peace – Humanitarian Aid: ‘Radical Change’ After Istanbul?

Janani Vivekananda of peacebuilding group International Alert said “We will only see … real lives saved when the major institutions are ready to invest in prevention and peacebuilding to reduce humanitarian need, take risks to fund people facing crises in fragile states, and where necessary stepping aside to let others, who might be better placed, respond to crises.”

Reuters – Aid experts give first World Humanitarian Summit mixed report card

Nicolas Moyer, the executive director from Humanitarian Coalition based in Canada, “The WHS has been a major disappointment to humanitarians that recognize the immense failures of the present “system.” Most prominent among these was the total lack of genuine leadership needed by state governments to address the causes of the conflicts which are driving humanitarian needs worldwide. This is about cause over symptoms and we cannot expect humanitarian assistance to replace political leadership to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable; nor should we design it to.”

Huffington Post – 3 Takeaways From The World Humanitarian Summit


Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said in a statement,”If the world continues to observe a rise in the number of children from conflict zones and areas suffering from natural disasters in the labour market and fails to address or consider their right to live with dignity, to access education and to be protected and nurtured, then the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted, would not be successfully achieved.”

Merinews – World Humanitarian Summit: Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi urges world leaders to protect children from slavery

Jeff Crisp from the Oxford University Refugee Study Center, described how “in this environment, there is a real risk that states will send their delegates to Istanbul and New York, restate their commitment to the principles of refugee protection and humanitarian action, agree on ambitious but non binding plans of action – then return to business as usual. In order to avert that scenario, there is an urgent need to celebrate the past achievements of the international refugee protection system and to highlight the support it continues to enjoy.”

News Deeply – Comment: World Humanitarian Summit Roundup