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World Humanitarian Summit vital to end suffering: Amir – Leaders meet to fix ‘broken’ aid system

ISTANBUL: HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (right), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second right) pose with leaders and representatives of participant countries yesterday during the World Humanitarian Summit. — AFP
ISTANBUL: HH the Amir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah (right), Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (center) and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (second right) pose with leaders and representatives of participant countries yesterday during the World Humanitarian Summit. — AFP

ISTANBUL: HH the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah stressed on the importance of holding the first World Humanitarian Summit in the Turkish capital amid growing threats to human lives posed by wars, conflicts and terrorism. “Conflicts and natural disasters have left many people homeless and doubled the numbers of refugees around the world,” Sheikh Sabah said in his opening speech yesterday.

According to recent international statistics, there are currently 60 million refugees and displaced people, while there are also over 2.2 billion living below the poverty line, he added. This summit is an opportunity for the international community to unite in easing the suffering of these people, through ending conflicts and providing financial aid for better life conditions, HH the Amir noted.

In this context, he touched on Kuwait’s prominent humanitarian role, saying that his country has contributed over $2 billion for the cause in the past five years. He added that “according to international statistics, Kuwait’s contributions were two times above the GDP rate agreed upon internationally”. Sheikh Sabah said that Kuwait also played a huge role in supporting Syrians living in severe conditions due to the ongoing war in their country. Kuwait has held three donor conferences for Syria and also co-headed the fourth one in London. The country has pledged around $1.6 billion for Syrian refugees.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the burden of handling the world’s crises should be better shared, as leaders and aid groups sought to defy sceptics at the unprecedented aid summit. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon gathered over 60 heads of state and government with top NGOs at the summit, aiming to better keep conflicts from erupting and ensure legal retribution for those guilty of humanitarian crimes.

Celebrity stardust was sprinkled by actors Daniel Craig, Forest Whitaker and Sean Penn, while top NGOs called for a wholesale reform of a now outdated humanitarian system. With some 60 million people displaced around the world and at least 125 million requiring assistance and protection in the biggest humanitarian crises since World War II, Ban said that the summit represented a chance to forge a “different future”.

But the event has been shadowed by the boycott of medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and doubts that the two-day event can make any genuine impact. “Let us seize this opportunity, let us make our mark as agents of change,” said Ban. He warned that realizing the aims was not “an easy task” and required a “political will on a scale we have not seen in recent years.” James Bond star Craig told the world leaders: “This summit is about potential to start the biggest humanitarian movement in our history,” warning against “empty words without action.”

Host Erdogan emphasized the contributions of his country, which is hosting some three million refugees from the Syria and Iraq conflicts and, in a barb at the West, complained others were not sharing the burden. “The current system falls short… the burden is shouldered only by certain countries, everyone should assume responsibility from now on,” he said. “Needs increase every day but resources do not increase at the same pace. There are tendencies to avoid responsibility among the international community.”

“Turkey knows this bitterly,” he added, saying Turkey had spent $10 billion on its hosting of Syrian refugees compared to $450 million from the rest of the international community. Reprising a familiar theme, Erdogan also urged reform of the UN Security Council, saying the “fate of humanity” cannot depend on its five veto-wielding permanent members. “The extent to which the international humanitarian system lies broken is alarming,” Erdogan earlier wrote in an opinion piece published in Britain’s Guardian newspaper. “The international community in particular has largely ignored its responsibilities toward the Syrian people by turning a blind eye to Bashar Al-Assad’s crimes against his own citizens.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of the highest profile guests at the summit, called for an end to empty pledges on aid that fizzled into nothing. “Too many promises are made and then the money does not come for the projects – that must end,” said Merkel, adding that the world currently had no humanitarian system that was “compatible with the future”.

The commitments adopted by the states will be non-binding and while leaders like Merkel and HH Sheikh Sabah are attending the summit, many other prominent world leaders were conspicuous by their absence. UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson said the first session had made progress on finding agreement on the need to prevent conflict rather than dealing with the bloody consequences. “I think we need to see the necessity to move from dealing with symptoms to dealing with root causes. I think that is the main conclusion of that meeting,” he said, saying spending on prevention of conflict was dwarfed by what is spent on relief.

Participants expressed alarm over deteriorating observance of humanitarian law, with schools and hospitals regularly targeted in conflict. The UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA said in a report almost half its schools had been hit by conflict in the last five years. “It is absurd to expect humanitarian responses to improve at a time when the repeated bombing of field hospitals and routine targeting of civilians go unchecked,” Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty added in a statement.

MSF, which is boycotting the event, said the summit risked being just a “fig leaf” for the world’s failure on humanitarian action. “I regret very much that they came to that decision,” said Eliasson. “One of the main purposes of this conference is our outrage against violations of international humanitarian law,” adding he hoped the “convictions they (MSF) stand for” would come out of the meeting.

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