We have been reading headlines on the number of refugees and displaced people (33 million worldwide) for months now, and many updates and commentaries on the process and progress of the World Humanitarian Summit, tasked with idenitfying, through global consultation, how to ‘fix’ an overwhelmed humanitarian and emergency response system. Beyond the fact that it feels like the world is slowly losing its mind, does it feel like perhaps the discussion around why the world can’t effectively cope with these plethora of crises is a tad too narrowly focussed? The disucssion is predominantly focussed on a system that can’t cope and needs to be fixed. In part, this arguement is correct – the current system is unbelievably overwhelmed and there are certainly ineffiencies and practices that need to be addressed. But that is not the whole of it, nor even the most of it.
The prevailing theory seems to be – indulge me here – that if we can somehow ‘fix’ the humanitarian system to be able to absorb the workload of 27,000 crises (I exaggerate, but only just) the world won’t seem such a terrible and out of control place. Except that it will still be terrible because we are forgetting to talk about – consistently and at top volume – the need for political will and political action to ‘fix’ the problems that are causing humanitarian crises the world over. Actual, roll-up-your-sleeves-and-mainline-coffee-politcal-will, not just lip service.
Of course, some will come back with ‘and what exactly would that entail? More bombs, more drones, more ‘boots on the ground?’ Honestly, I don’t know. But somehow the international community ended the genocide in Rwanda, the war in Bosnia and helpedto sucessfully (for the most part) rebuild 14 countries devastated by the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004. Local actors have been able to persuade change in their own countries – look to Cote d’Ivoire and Tunisia for great examples – demonstrating that where there is a will there definitely is a way. Perhaps the case of Syria demonstrates that even when there is the will, ‘the way’ isn’t always a clear, short path.
This issue doesn’t stop with conflict – climate change is also a looming if not already existing crisis from a humanitarian perspective. Families and whole communities in small island states are already being forced to relocate. And yet the upcoming COP21 in Paris seems indifferent to this issue – while there is some commitment to curb global temperature rise, there is a lack of political will to curb it enough to ensure that entire countries and cities don’t disappear (it’s not just remote places most people have likely never heard of like Tuvalu; how do you feel about visiting a submerged Miami or Venice? Not so thrilled would be my bet).
But let me get back to my original point – yes, the humanitarian system needs to be updated, however it is unfair to say it is ‘broken’ because it cannot cope with the insane (yes, insane) scale of displacement due to conflict, oppression and climate change. It is unfair to blame the humanitarian system for failing to deal with 33 million displaced people effectively because political will has somehow become a secondary priority to the new priority of &blamestorming& (concept courtesy of an former colleague who avoided staff meetings on underperforming projects like they were the plague).
We all have our part to play – political will can mean more than the work of politicians and diplomats. Look to Tunisia’s noble prize-winning civil society groups who worked tirelessly to ensure that the Arab Spring wasn’t for naught in that country, look to the Climate Vulnerability Monitor and Care International’s ‘1.5 to stay alive’ campaign to light a fire under the push for greater curbs to global temperature increase. Look even to the people and governements of Germany and Sweden who have demonstrated that even when political will to end conflict is lacking, there is political will to at least help those who have had their lives uprooted simply because they were born in one country and not another.
Let’s put less focus on how the humanitarian system isn’t ‘working’ and more on political will to deal with the challenges that cause displacement – addressing climate change, corruption, human rights abuses, and reducing disaster risk. Less blamstorming – let’s address global crises from more than one perspective.