(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Welcome to IRIN's World Humanitarian Summit Blog. Check back soon for more highlights and snippets.

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27 May

Q&A with Peter Maurer: Respect the rules of war or pay the price

The World Humanitarian Summit failed to make real progress on respecting the rules of war, but the ICRC president is optimistic that the cost of violations is starting to be felt. Read more.

26 May

The World Humanitarian Summit: winners and losers

Not sure what to take away from this week’s unwieldy World Humanitarian Summit? Here’s our summary of what was – and wasn’t – agreed.

Twitter highlights of the World Humanitarian Summit

See our Storify for a selection of the highs, lows, key moments and memorable quips of the summit.

25 May

UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson says the commitments made during the Summit will be reviewed with participants over the summer and presented to the UN General Assembly in September in the form of a report by the Secretary-General. Next steps could include some kind of inter-governmental process to follow through on those commitments, but the exact approach has yet to be decided.

The World Humanitarian Summit - in a few words

After more than two years of lead-up, the World Humanitarian Summit wrapped up yesterday in Istanbul. Here’s how some of the participants described the Summit, in one word (as best they could) – from the hopeful, to the skeptical, to the logistically frustrated. Read more.

24 May

As the Summit wrapped up, most people were struggling to get a handle on exactly what was agreed and by whom. The Chair’s Summary gives a high-level overview of general commitments (and platitudes). In his remarks at the closing press conference and closing ceremony, Ban Ki-Moon also highlighted the following achievements (even if many of these have been in the works for some time):

  • The Grand Bargain agreement to make aid more efficient
  • A new fund for education in emergencies
  • charter on including people with disabilities in humanitarian action
  • partnership between UN agencies, the World Bank and the V20 (Vulnerable Twenty) to better prepare high-risk countries for future disasters linked to climate change
  • A platform for young people in crisis
  • New innovative financing methods, such as a humanitarian impact bond
  • An initiative to build resilience among one billion people

Call for UN resolution on climate change “legal protection”

Climate change was discussed in Istanbul in terms of imminent disasters, most noticeably in the context of displacement from low-lying island nations, a scenario made more urgent by El Niño and predicted rises in sea level.

Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga upped the ante for their cause with a call for a UN General Assembly resolution on “legal protection for people displaced by climate change”. Speaking to IRIN after making the announcement at a roundtable event, he said: “The main outcome (of the summit) is connectivity and empowerment to enhance and compliment what we have achieved in climate change and disasters, financing and of course the Agenda 2030 (sustainable development goals)”.

The cause of Small Island Developing States was highlighted in bold at COP21 in Paris, but progress remains slow. The costs of relocating relatively large numbers of people from coastal areas in places like Fiji are prohibitive. Unlocking financial aid from the Green Climate Fund is proving predictably hard.

The Nansen Initiative leads the way in finding solutions for those displaced by disasters. And the V20 (Vulnerable 20 Group of Finance Ministers) has identified 20 most at risk countries and is working to ensure they reach a minimum level of readiness by 2020. Meanwhile, the island nations themselves are reinforcing their preparedness so the next event doesn’t become a humanitarian disaster.

“We need to take advantage of the initiatives that are being made to advance those frameworks and that should be our main objective,” Sopoaga told IRIN. And in one word, what was most important for the prime minister: “protection”.

Sweating the small stuff at the World Humanitarian Summit:

How about the small NGOs and private companies displaying their wares. What do they make of #ReShapeAid? Read more from IRIN’s Chief Editor.

Is the Grand Bargain a Big Deal?

Yesterday, thirty representatives of donors and aid agencies at the World Humanitarian Summit produced 51 “commitments” to make emergency aid finance more efficient and effective. But is this package all it's cracked up to be? Read more.

The summit is not short of alignments and commitments:

23 May

The weird and the wonderful of WHS:



WHS tim- lapse - before
Andrew Gully/IRIN
An artist has been commissioned to produce an artwork and his progress will be recorded for later fast-forwarding.

Perhaps, time lapse art is the most fitting genre for an aid system that wants to change but not too fast. 


WHS time-lapse - after
Andrew Gully/IRIN

And then there’s this. Put yourselves in the shoes of a citizen journalist in Syria, amidst the rubble, the demonstrations, and the explosions. A 360 degree virtual reality experience that really is immersive.


Virtual reality - citizen journalist in Syria at WHS
Andrew Gully/IRIN

Isn't there enough reality to go around?

A new study looks at how private philanthropy might do more for crisis prevention and response. The report says that less than $50 million in total was spent on international humanitarian needs in 2013 by the top 1,000 US private foundations. 

The World Humanitarian Summit opened in grandeur this morning, with a “sensory experience”, as promised, bringing the experiences of those affected by crises to life with sound, light, music, dance and poetry.  Appearances from Forest Whitaker, Ashley Judd and Daniel Craig were interspersed with moving speeches from representatives of affected communities and survivors. Ban Ki-Moon said he'd come up with the idea for this summit four years ago and listed his five priorities for the Summit. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan then gave a speech that will raise the eyebrows of critics of his Kurdish policy and alleged human rights abuses against asylum seekers; claiming that pain knows “no colour, race or religion”. He pledged to continue “pursuing blood-shedding dictators” and noted “some tendencies to avoid responsibility” for aid financing among the international community, complaining that Turkey has spent more than $10 billion responding to refugees in Turkey.

22 May




Summit entrance
Heba Aly/IRIN
The blue carpet unveiled

At the summit's opening press conference, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson and Under-Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs Stephen O'Brien downplayed questions from the press about the number of heads of state attending the summit (Eliasson described the latest figure - 65 - as a "very large number" for such summits); the non-binding nature of the summit's outcomes (O'Brien argued this leaves more room to find consensus); and the fact that "only" 68 countries had signed onto a communique (see below) in support of Ban Ki-Moon's vision for the Summit (in fact, the communique is the result of an independently-led and only recently-organised move by the US to drum up support, which O'Brien described as "outstanding"). 

A long-anticipated southern NGO coalition is launched in Istanbul. The NEAR Network gathers emergency aid agencies from the global south. It's got EUR700,000 in seed funding from the EU, but that money is channeled through a European Catholic NGO, CAFOD. Which is not quite emancipation...

21 May

Over sixty countries have signed up to a broad statement of intention, the "Political Communiqué for the World Humanitarian Summit" which corresponds to the agenda of the summit. The commitments are headed as follows:

  • First, we commit to use global leadership to prevent and end conflicts.
  • Second, we commit to uphold the norms that safeguard humanity.
  • Third, we commit to leave no one behind.
  • Fourth, we commit to shift from delivering aid to ending need.
  • Finally, but not least, we commit to invest in humanity.

However the effect is somewhat diminished by this footnote:

"This Communique is not legally binding and does not affect the signatories’ existing obligations under applicable international and domestic law. Rather, the signatures below reflect the high-level political commitments of theMember States represented."

Sean Penn's new film (a screening is rumoured to be on in Istanbul on Sunday), has been getting exceptional reviews. Exceptionally bad. A love story between aid workers in "war-torn Liberia", it's currently scoring eight points out of 100 on review site Rotten Tomatoes. One reviewer says it's a "stunningly self-important but numbingly empty cocktail of romance and insulting refugee porn."

If you thought that cash-based humanitarian aid was going to be the big new thing, the Grand Bargain document doesn't quite say so:

Not easily summarised, a frank and reflective paper from HERE-Geneva asks probing questions about humanitarian principles and accountability. A sample: "The goal is to move from an exclusive focus on doing things right to place systematic attention on whether or not we are doing the right things."

IRIN has three curtain-raisers out today:

Jan Egeland's op-ed for IRIN: The well-fed dead: Why aid is still missing the point

John Norris writes in Foreign Policy: "The U.N.’s World Humanitarian Summit Is a Total Mess".

20 May

Looking forward to seeing you all at this side event: "Sesame Street and Elephant Song Media Multi Media Approach to Supporting Children and Families in Crisis Settings"

The AU has published its position ahead of the summit. There are several "pillars". Number one: "Primary Responsibility of the State"

There's another Inclusion Charter. That makes two, if you're counting. This one involves CBM and Handicap International: http://humanitariandisabilitycharter.org/

The ink is barely dry, and the documents not yet released to the public, but the critiques of the Grand Bargain have begun:

  • From MANGO - its questions include: will it fully endorse IATI?
  • From ACT Alliance - is increasing the UN-only CERF fund really signalling a rebalancing of funding habits?


19 May


It has a name: the southern NGO network involving Degan Ali and others has launched: The Near Network

IRIN: EU vice president Kristalina Georgieva makes the case for the "Grand Bargain" in a new opinion piece for IRIN.

At least 60 members of the US-based InterAction NGO network have a common set of commitments for the summit.

The Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement has published its position paper for the summit: "Istanbul and beyond"

Turkey's humanitarian policy includes a bold claim. It's "the goodness center of the world".

18 May

USAID administrator Gayle Smith will lead the US delegation, dispppointing some who were hoping for a bigger name. On May 13, US-based NGO consortium InterAction had lobbied for more senior representation in a letter to President Obama: "it will be important for Vice-President Biden or Secretary Kerry to join Administrator Gayle Smith in leading strong senior political level U.S. delegation in Istanbul."

17 May

Meanwhile, in logo etiquette, the summit's graphic designers may have stepped on the toes of the Red Cross/Red Crescent:

The Guardian profiles UN humanitarian chief Stephen O'Brien, who says he's "optimistic and indeed enthusiastic" about the summit.

The Inclusion Charter is a set of commitments and actions a group of humanitarian agencies have devised to better include those with particular vulnerabilities (such as the elderly or disabled) in emergency response. There are 17 supporting agencies listed so far, including specialists HelpAge and War Child. 

"Syrian humanitarian actors were responsible for delivering 75% of the humanitarian assistance in 2014, they received only 0.3% of the direct and 9.3 % of the indirect cash funding available for the overall Syria response." A new report from the Local 2 Global Protection project dives deep into funding flows and relationships between the international aid system and local Syrian NGOs.


16 May


The Geneva-based International Council of Voluntary Agencies (ICVA) has published a set of position papers (called "NGO briefs") on the major themes at the summit.

14 May

13 May

The total cost of the summit is hard to pin down, especially Turkey's expenses in hosting it. But in the spirit of aid transparency, we're digging. We found that an anonymous editor has changed references to the multi-million overall cost in Wikipedia. Who could that possibly be?


12 May

The firehose begins: there are 518 documents matching the search "World Humanitarian Summit" on ReliefWeb already

11 May

Action contre la Faim, the French NGO, has a specific proposal for the World Humanitarian Summit. It is calling for a new UN mechanism to monitor and defend aid workers' safety. The UN has a number of mechanisms that could do this: a "special procedure" can mean the appointment of an individual or unit to champion a particular issue, either under the Secretray-General's or using the human rights organs of the UN. Read about the campaign here.

There is a postage stamp in honour of the summit:


The UK-based Start Network is having its annual conference.  Start, a grouping of humanitarian NGOs, now has 39 members. You can follow the event on the live blog or #StartForChange hashtag.

Emergency aid projects can have complex contracting, paperwork and financial reporting strings attached by donors. On the other hand, donors find that aid agencies calculate costs differently and could share more common resources. A process to simplify and harmonise aid paperwork and reporting on both sides is called the "Grand Bargain" and its final preparatory meeting was yesterday in New York. A group on NGOs has set up the Less Paper, More Aid website and video to focus on the issue. There's (of course) a hashtag too #LessPaperMoreAid.

10 May

IRIN EXCLUSIVE: Russia slams World Humanitarian Summit

IRIN has obtained a letter from major donors (PDF) to the UN's humanitarian chief and the heads of major UN aid agencies, laying out their priorities for the World Humanitarian Summit. It gives a clear view of the priorities of the major financiers of humanitarian aid. Will any of it happen?


Hashtag proliferation update: Turkey's public diplomacy Twitter feed is using this one: 



The British parliament's International Development Committee has issued a report on how the UK government should approach the WHS.

It's blunt on an apparent conflict of interest between needs assessment and fund-raising: "The global humanitarian system displays a worrying lack of separation of powers between those assessing needs and those appealing for funds. DFID should propose the establishment of an independent body to be responsible for conducting needs assessments in crises."

It also expresses disappointment that the summit appears to be less than intent on tackling institutional reform and improving emergency response head-on: "We have heard evidence that there is a need for fundamental, systemic reform to address concerns about the core architecture of the humanitarian system and rethink the approach to humanitarian assistance. We are disappointed to see the lack of a forum to directly address these issues at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), particularly the exclusion of the High-Level Leaders’ Roundtable on “Building the future of humanitarian action: towards more effective, context-specific, and predictable responses” from the final programme."

Some of these findings draw on IRIN's submission to the parliamentary inquiry. 

HelpAge issued a new report in the run-up to the Summit, the first no doubt of many from various organisations: Older Voices in Humanitarian Crises: Calling for change (PDF)

9 May

Angela Merkel has confirmed she will attend - the first G7 leader to do so: 

The full programme and side events programme is now up on on the summit website.

8 May 

A handful of heads of state are confirmed for the summit, including Kuwait and the Netherlands. 

6 May

IRIN was asked to provide evidence for an inquiry by the British parliament's International Development Committee into the global humanitarian system. Managing Editor Heba Aly wrote a briefing paper to summarise some of the issues and context. 

5 May

Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) announced it is pulling out of the World Humanitarian Summit. Read IRIN's exclusive story.  

4 May

OCHA is using Trello to distribute its social media material.

3 May

A couple of tweets...

2 May

UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O'Brien gave a press conference about preparations for the Summit. His original tune in an interview with IRIN last autumn ("the UN doesn't have to change") has since shifted. At a recent event, he said: "A lot has to change. There's no doubt about it." 


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