If you see the news in Pakistan today, there are disturbingly diverse juxtapositions between stories about the lives of the powerful or famous and the stories – usually less visible – about extreme human suffering due to man’s own inhumanity or inability to mitigate risks from earthquakes, floods, cyclones and more.
The World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) held recently in Istanbul was about changing this. Did it? I was fortunate to be there, and the answer is yes – or at least it started to by laying out the path ahead. The summit brought together 10,000 people, with 150 governments in attendance – including Pakistan. With a packed and ambitious agenda, and by not following the standard operating procedure for a summit, many prejudged it as a disaster. But despite – or because of – all this, the summit worked!
It was an impressive forum and the UN again used its incredible convening power and brought together the humanitarian community and strengthened it with broader participation from others outside the normal fold, such as the private sector.
The summit had its fair share of rhetoric and déjà vu but overall, it was dynamic. The adrenaline rush of the organisers and participants was infectious. The ‘Grand Bargain’ on humanitarian financing was a clear winner. Already, a large American private firm founded by a refugee has pledged to commit $1 billion for refugees. The summit also permitted those who remain unheard to speak directly to people with power. There was a whole range of commitments made for new initiatives and new actions, 150 to be more precise.
But throughout the two days, one question that kept coming back to me was: how will the commitments help people when they are not binding on the states? Looking back now, I think they will. The number of countries at the Istanbul summit and the breadth and depth of participation created a new dynamic to act on the commitments – despite the challenges.
How can these commitments help Pakistan to deal with it challenges? Pakistan’s strong show of resolve and determination at the summit demonstrated its capacity and will; and I believe that the five outcome statements of the summit give can point the way ahead. First, Pakistan should ensure that ‘no-one should be left behind’ in its work with displaced people, refugees, gender, education and protection of the vulnerable.
Second, the humanitarian, development and peace-building efforts need to be brought closer together. Third, more work is needed on preparedness, innovation and consultations with people from delivering aid to ending need.
Investing in humanity should mean that national and local responders are funded better, there is increased efficiency and more opportunities for private sector funding. Finally, if the commitments are met, there should be more political support at the national and international levels.
Just last month I was in Kurram in Fata and what was happening there showed to me that commitments can indeed be put into action. Seeing Kurram belies the outside image of a desolate, dangerous and abandoned area. Instead it is lush, lovely, lively and full of new energy despite having gone through tragically turbulent times over the past few years.
The hospitality was among the warmest I have ever experienced. We met people who were eagerly waiting to go back home in the next two weeks and visited the areas that they were so keen to return to. And I was not surprised why. I was mesmerised by the beauty of the area.
But, while beautiful from a distance, up close the effects of the turmoil and dislocation of the last six years without people were daunting. We saw how much had to be done in the next few months to rebuild and restore the area and how important it was to support people as they do this. Despite all the challenges, what stood out for me was an example of unexpected change – when we met with village leaders they said their top priorities was education for both girls and boys.
It was clear to me that Pakistan has already begun to take forward the key commitments even before the summit spelt these out. The key will be to keep the momentum, and amplify it. My visits to the affected communities of Fata and KP have shown to me the value of the support the government, the UN, the military, the civil society and the international community have provided over the last few years. These visits have also reiterated the importance of continuing that support to meet immediate needs, to reduce peoples’ vulnerabilities and increase their resilience.
In closing, Ban Ki-moon described the summit as “not the endpoint, but a turning point” in a longer process of change. With Pakistan’s experience, commitment and its active participation at the summit backed by a strong and dedicated civil society and development partners, I believe that ‘turning point’ for the country is near.
Neil Buhne is the writer who is UN resident coordinator, humanitarian coordinator and UNDP resident representative, Pakistan.