This week, Istanbul is hosting one of the most significant summits on human security since the end of the Cold War. The first World Humanitarian Summit will focus on issues related to humanitarianism, humanitarian assistance, crisis preparedness and development. The timing is extremely important as the world is witnessing the most significant humanitarian disasters and calamities since the end of World War II. The conflicts, civil wars, number of refugees and internally displaced people and the extent of all of these crises tests the international community and international organizations vis-a-vis capability and capacity in a fast changing, global system.
The institutions that were established by the community of states in order to deal with these significant humanitarian challenges seems to be outdated and insufficient and fails to handle today’s problems. These challenges have become more obvious with the increasing number of crisis areas in the last few years. The international community failed terribly in conflict prevention, crisis management and humanitarian assistance in these areas. This failure has become more visible especially in the case of the Syrian civil war. The international community mostly reacted with standard operating procedures as the number of refugees increased exponentially in neighboring countries and as major parts of Syria filled with internally displaced people.
Part of this failure is as a result of the evolving international system. This unstable system made the system’s actors focus on traditional security concerns, including changing balances of power, shifting alliances and power rivalries. The human security dimension in this fluid international system, however, was mostly neglected. As the existing international organizations and institutions became obsolete and insufficient, the international community failed to come up with innovative solutions to deal with the existing problems. Another dimension of this failure is not about the capacity, but more about the willingness of international actors to contribute to the alleviation of humanitarian crises. Despite their contributions to international organizations’ budgets, many of the more developed countries showed reluctance to get involve in these humanitarian relief efforts around the world. The geographical distance from these crisis areas was considered as a cushion from the impacts of humanitarian disasters. The disinterest in and lack of sympathy of many Western countries for Syrian refugees is in part a result of this feeling among some policy makers in these countries. However, the recent refugee flow shows that if some people are under threat in this global world it ends up impacting everybody. This overdue realization of crisis in Syria has made the international community take some steps to prevent the deterioration of the problem, but at this point it seems insufficient.
The World Humanitarian summit will be the first major gathering that will become a forum for discussions of these issues. There will be five issues on the agenda of the summit, including preventing and ending conflict, respecting the rules of war, leaving no one behind, working differently to end need and investing in humanity. The short-, medium- and long-term solutions to these problems and challenges will be discussed in different sessions by representatives of public and private institutions.Of course it is not a coincidence that this meeting is taking place in Turkey. Turkey has been one of the most generous countries in terms of humanitarian assistance in recent years. Especially since the beginning of the war in Syria, the Turkish government has spent billions of dollars and taken in almost 3 million refugees fleeing from the persecution of Bashar Assad’s regime and DAESH without any discrimination. So far its generosity has been appreciated and recognized by almost all international organizations and governments in the world, and through hosting this summit as an exemplar country involved in different humanitarian crises from the Rohingyas in Myanmar to Somalia it will fulfill another major responsibility of the international community.
This article was first published in Daily Sabah on May 21, 2016.