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World Humanitarian Summit ‘Historic Opportunity’ to Ensure Life of Dignity for All, Deputy Secretary-General Says at Preparatory Event

Following are UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson’s remarks at the informal briefing to Member States on the World Humanitarian Summit preparations, in New York today:

Thank you for joining us here today to discuss the preparations for the World Humanitarian Summit.  I want to thank the Government of Turkey for hosting this historic event.  I am glad to be joined here on the podium by Ambassador Çevik as well as by Stephen O’Brien and colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

This is an opportunity for us to update you on the Summit.  But we are also keen to hear your views on the Summit and your ideas for how we can make it a success.  My colleagues and I are ready to answer any questions.  You can also find further information on the Summit’s website —

The Secretary-General has been clear: we are now at a critical juncture in the world where we need to stand up for our common humanity.  The World Humanitarian Summit and his Agenda for Humanity provide us with an historic opportunity to do so.

125 million people in 37 countries around the world are seriously affected by humanitarian crises.  Brutal conflicts are devastating the lives of millions of people and have led to unprecedented numbers of refugees and internally displaced people.

Disasters, both man-made and natural — and let us remember that today marks the five-year anniversary of Sendai in Japan — are becoming more frequent, more complex and more intense.  We are also seeing the damaging impact of climate change around the world.  In some areas, we see lives, communities, countries and entire regions stressed and destabilized.

These violent challenges are testing the resilience of our communities and nations.  They are also testing the strength of regional and international cooperation.  It is clear that business as usual is not an option.   The cost of humanitarian assistance has increased by 600 per cent over the past decade.  This is not in anyone’s interest.  It is not sustainable.  And it is not morally acceptable. 

The Secretary-General’s hope is that the World Humanitarian Summit will represent a turning point — one which helps create the political momentum for change.  To succeed, it requires global leaders at the highest level to be part of this historic moment.  They can demonstrate leadership to end suffering and commit energy and resources to place human beings at the centre of our national and international efforts.

Today, I would like to brief you on the Summit but also, as I said, hear your voices and views.  These views I will convey to the Secretary-General, who plans to have a follow-up meeting with you on 4 April, after we have absorbed your comments.

I would like to particularly underline the importance and relevance of the five core responsibilities outlined in the Secretary-General’s report.  They have the potential to transform how we work together both on humanitarian action and development.  At the Summit, the Secretary-General is asking global leaders to make these core responsibilities a common framework for action over the coming years.  The seven round tables at the Summit which were recently presented to you will be an opportunity for your leaders to make concrete commitments in support of these five responsibilities, which I’ll now briefly describe. 

First, we must do much more to prevent and resolve the conflicts which drive 80 per cent of humanitarian needs.  At the Summit, leaders should agree on clear steps to strengthen preventive capacities and to deal with root causes. 

Second, we need to do more to protect civilians caught up in conflict.  The shameful failure to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law is causing death and injury to untold thousands of civilians every year.  The Istanbul meeting offers a splendid opportunity to speak out on the basic values, norms and principles protecting human beings in need.

Third, we must be true to the vision of leaving no-one behind, as you, Member States, stated in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda.  Supporting people for years without hope or opportunity is not enough.  We must deliver on the promise of Agenda 2030 for all, including those in complex emergencies, those most vulnerable, those farthest behind.  The SDG implementation agenda is part of the background and of the future of this meeting.

Fourth, leaders should agree that it is time to make the relationship, the nexus, between humanitarian action and development more dynamic and more mutually reinforcing.  The Summit is a historic opportunity to transcend this divide.

And let me be clear:  this is not about taking vital resources away from development.  It is about a comprehensive approach by both development and humanitarian actors to work together to build the resilience of people affected by crisis.  It is about establishing a seamless relationship between relief, recovery, rehabilitation and development, which goes back to 46/182, the resolution laying the foundation for the humanitarian agenda.

Finally, delivering these core responsibilities will require the investment of appropriate resources and political will.

The Secretary-General’s Agenda for Humanity and the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, chaired by Kristalina Georgieva, called for a conceptual shift from simply funding humanitarian needs to reducing humanitarian needs.  At the Summit, we should decide how we concretely can bring about this fundamental change.

The Secretary-General’s report amplifies the voices of the thousands and thousands of people in over 150 countries who were involved in the three-year consultation process leading up to Istanbul. 

On the first day of the summit, on 23 May, the Secretary-General and our Turkish hosts will convene a High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government to provide their collective leadership in assisting crisis-affected people.  This segment will provide a visible and high-profile opportunity for leaders to demonstrate their commitment to change in the spirit of the Agenda for Humanity.

When the Secretary-General called for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in 2012, the challenges were pressing.  Now they are even more urgent, and growingly so every day.  Syria is perhaps the most acute of challenges.  But there are many more.

Our vision is that the summit outcomes — the Chair’s Summary and the “Commitments to Action” document — will, together with the Agenda for Humanity, establish the framework for action over the coming years.  Action is not only a moral imperative.  It is a necessity as well as in our enlightened self-interest, if we are to fulfil the promises of the 2030 Agenda — and if we are to live up to the United Nations Charter.

Let us be on the right side of history in today’s troubled world: let us be on the side that chooses humanity and compassion over division and despair, the side that stands up for “we the peoples” and the values and principles in the United Nations Charter.

Let us all take a historic step forward for a life of dignity for all in Istanbul in May.

For information media. Not an official record.