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World Humanitarian Summit - Updates

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24 May 2016

Marnix Niemeijer is representing Micah Global at the WHS Summit this week. Each day he is writing a blog of his experiences. 

After the summit: 24th May 2016

It is the evening after the summit. What will it bring? Difficult to say. This UN summit was not like the ones before. This time no negotiations about the final document. The time was spent with discussions about the five core responsibilities and commitments which were formulated by Ban Ki Moon.

There is a strong feeling that the current UN systems cannot cope with all the conflicts and disasters. Partly because of the volume and the numbers, partly because conflicts are men made and for the UN, as political organization, difficult to deal with.

As far as solutions are found in the current system, I will be skeptical. More partnership between the UN organizations will be fine, but it will not be enough. If the UN is willing to give up power, than there might be hope. If affected communities and people really become the center, then new and promising dynamics will be seen. One of the intentions is that more finances should go directly to grass root organizations. I hope this will become reality.

Also the new emphasis on the role of faith based organizations in humanitarian activities is promising. It was seen by many representatives of the different faith groups as a breakthrough. 

The main task of UN in humanitarian action is not only to provide mechanisms for service delivery, but also to uphold the rights of affected people and people who have to flee. As political organization who is owned by the governments, the UN often falls short in protection. I haven’t heard how this will be solved. Frankly spoken, it is a shame if the UN, as instruments of the governments, is not able to defend the right of the weak, the poor, the refugee. Let our moral opinions be known be our governments and let our hands and voices do, what we have to do.

Imagination: Tuesday 24th May 2016

The WHS has been started. The corridors are full of well-dressed government and UN-officials. And of course there are many NGO-workers (local, national, international) who have their own dress code.

A conference like this gets its own dynamics. You seem to be in another world: there are many round tables, special sessions and side events. And the names are competing with each other.

I decide to go to ‘people at the center’. In the center of the room stands a table with a projector. Several people present ‘people centered’ methods and techniques. One of them seems very practical. It is a communication tool (‘translation cards’) specially developed to overcome the communication gap on the Greek islands where refugees come in. Refugees and relief workers speak together many languages, but they don’t speak each other’s language. And it is not only the language that matters; it is of course also the situation. After a scary boat trip the refugees have been arrived on the beach in a new, strange reality. For the relief workers there is always the question: what will happen today? Can I cope with it? Many of them, volunteers, are driven by their heart.

One of the speakers shared a question which was asked by many refugees: “Where is the bus to Germany?” A nice anecdote that makes very clear what is in the heart of refugees. To build up a new life with chances, also for the children!

But I also thought of the many professional relief and development staff coming from overseas to support people and communities in Africa, Asia and Latin America, myself included. How often do we undertake actions that reflects more our desires and our organization policies, than that they really are built on deep knowledge of the communities and people that we like to serve.

One speaker in another workshop said: “The right word at the moment seems ‘localization’. But friends, don’t forget this is not an instrument and not a technique, it is a vision, imagination.” 

Marnix Niemeijer

The day before: Sunday 22nd May

It is the day before the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in Istanbul will start. In the morning I meet David Boan (The Humanitarian Disaster Institute, Wheaton) and Peter Howard (Food for the Hungry International). David formulates a framework for the commitments of the WEA for the WHS and he asked some people, also Peter and me, to share our thoughts.

We meet at the local Starbucks. I am always a little confused. If I like to order a small cup of coffee – what I always prefer – you need in the words of Starbucks a ‘tall’ cup. In this world big stands for good. Will this be the metaphor for the conference? No room for the voices of small communities under threat, of asylum seekers on their dangerous ways, only paperwork from national and global offices?

Later that day we have lunch with the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local communities. It is an initiative from all religious groups. Both groups experience that national governments and multilateral donors do have second thoughts when they engage with religious groups and often do not acknowledge what these groups do.  Both groups know that religious groups on the ground offer significant contributions to humanitarian responses. But evidence is seldom recorded. In this joint learning initiative evidence is gathered and presented. Excellent work!

I finish with a strong anecdote from the lunch meeting. Once a government official refused to support a faith based organization (FBO). The FBO was not impartial in his eyes. The leader of the FBO response to the official was: what you call impartial humanitarian action is being the garbage truck that follows the big mistakes of the international politics.

I look forward to tomorrow.

Marnix Niemeijer