World Humanitarian Summit at risk of neglecting marginalized groups


Leading aid agencies have written to the UN humanitarian chief, criticizing the omission of marginalized groups from the preparatory statement for the World Humanitarian Summit next year.

The agencies, including Oxfam International, Save the Children, Christian Aid, HelpAge International, Action Against Hunger, CBM, Islamic Relief and Plan International, were among 23,000 people who shared their views in a two-year worldwide consultation with those affected by humanitarian crises, such as humanitarian organizations, civil society, governments, the private sector and others. 

The consultation highlighted the need for humanitarian assistance to be better adapted to meet the differing needs of vulnerable groups taking into account gender, age and disability. The agencies are dismayed to find that the priorities identified in the statement issued by the UN humanitarian chief, Stephen O’Brien, fail to recognize these issues. 

“The humanitarian system is currently designed to deliver a one-size-fits-all-response that is not adapted to the different needs of different groups,” say the agencies in their letter. “This creates one of the greatest and most significant barriers to the delivery of truly impartial and accountable assistance.” 

The summit is seen as the first test of the UN's commitment to “leave no-one behind,” made during other high profile global processes in 2015, such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, Financing for Development and the COP21. 

Fundamental characteristics such as gender (particularly women), age (particularly children and older people), and ability (particularly people with disabilities) are very significant in determining people’s access to humanitarian assistance. The humanitarian system must recognize them as critical factors in the design and delivery of all humanitarian responses.

The agencies call on the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to align with recommendations in the Sustainable Development Goals and the Sendai Framework and follow the example set by some humanitarian donors such as the UK’s Department for International Development and the EU’s Humanitarian Aid Office by putting the most vulnerable and marginalized groups at the heart of humanitarian responses. 

The agencies propose a set of six measures that, if adopted, will ensure the humanitarian system of the future is sensitive to the needs of marginalized and vulnerable groups: 

  • Data must be collected and fully disaggregated to show the nature and extent of the needs of different groups. This will provide a proper evidence-base for humanitarian responses. 
  • Using this evidence, humanitarian action must be designed to meet the specific needs of different vulnerable groups as well as the general needs of the affected population as a whole. 
  • Delivery mechanisms must make the assistance accessible to those who need it, whatever their ability.
  • The knowledge and skills of humanitarian actors must be developed and maintained so they are able to understand different needs and deliver appropriate and accessible assistance for all.
  • Affected people must be placed at the center of humanitarian action. Humanitarian actors must systematically engage with those affected to deliver meaningful participation and consultation to ensure their views are reflected in all aspects of the response from assessment, design, delivery and monitoring and evaluation. 
  • Funding that is commensurate with the scale of needs must be made available and allocated impartially according to need, recognizing the respective needs of different groups.  

These recommendations reflect those made in the WHS Synthesis Report on the basis of all the consultations, as well as the recommendations in the SDGs and the Sendai Framework.  If they are incorporated in the priorities for the road to Istanbul and the Summit itself, they will ensure the humanitarian system of the future is fit for its purpose of reaching the most vulnerable and helping them survive with dignity. 

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Lauren Hartnett
Humanitarian Media Lead
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