World's first humanitarian summit begins in Istanbul

Turkey is hosting the world’s first humanitarian summit, which will bring together more than a hundred UN member states in Istanbul to address global humanitarian issues.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (4th L) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (5th R) pose with leaders and representatives of the parcitipant countries for a family photo during the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, May 23, 2016.

Turkey became the first country on Monday to host World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, gathering representatives from most of the UN member states.

The summit comes as the Syrian civil war enters its sixth year, and Europe faces the worst refugee crisis since World War II as global social inequality has reached a peak amid a rising world population.

Hosted by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, world leaders of United Nations member states, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US Vice-President Joe Biden, are set to gather in Turkey’s biggest city on Monday and Tuesday.

During the summit, attended by 125 of the UN’s 193 member states, at least 50 heads of government will announce several commitments to reduce humanitarian disasters.

These include: preventing and ending conflict; respecting the rules of war; addressing forced displacement; achieving gender equality; responding to climate change; ending the need for aid; and investing in humanity.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International, who will address government leaders at the summit, said in a statement on Thursday: "Leaders at the World Humanitarian Summit must make concrete commitments that deliver real change for civilians facing disaster and conflict."

"Fundamentally, we must see action from world leaders to reverse the shocking erosion of respect for international humanitarian law - this could be the summit’s single most important legacy," Byanyima said.

Oxfam International is an international federation of 18 humanitarian organisations "working together with partners and local communities in more than 90 countries," according to its offical website. 

Russian leader declines invitation

Doctors Without Borders (MSF) announced on May 5 that it would pull out of the summit because of a "lack of hope" and it would "address the massive needs" caused by violence against its medical staff in conflict areas including Syria, Yemen and South Sudan.

Last year, 75 hospitals managed by MSF were bombed. In April this year, an air strike hit a MSF hospital in a Syrian opposition-held area in Aleppo, killing more than a dozen people, including children and doctors, the organisation said.

US Secretary of State John Kerry blamed the attack on the Russian-backed Syrian regime and condemned it as "a deliberate strike on a known medical facility."

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose country is one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, also declined his invitation to the summit, the humanitarian news agency IRIN reported on May 10.

Criticised internationally for its role in backing the Assad regime, Russia said in a statement obtained by IRIN that it "refuses to be bound by the results of a process it says failed to include its views."

Why the summit’s location matters

In 2014, the UN reported that around $540 million of the roughly $135 billion global aid budget was spent on decreasing disaster risk.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to push for an increase in world spending to reduce the risk of disaster at the summit in Turkey, which is one of the world'’s most generous aid donors.

Turkey ranked third in the list of countries with the most international humanitarian work in 2012 and 2013, the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, TIKA, said in its Turkish Development Assistance Report for 2013 to the latest figures from the agency.

According to 2013 Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, the top five donors were the US with $3.8 billion, followed by EU institutions ($1.9 billion), the UK ($1.2 billion), Turkey ($1.0 billion) and Sweden with $784 million.

Hosting almost three million Syrian refugees, Turkey has spent nearly $10 billion on providing aid for them since the beginning of the Syrian crisis.

TRTWorld and agencies