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A report most worrying: The world painted by flames


Jay Naidoo is founding General Secretary of Cosatu, a former minister in the Nelson Mandela government and is a board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Is our world descending into flames? Is the evidence of growing humanitarian crises contradicting those who have raised their champagne glasses to toast the better world we live in, celebrating the Millennium Development Goals and amongst other claims, drops in infant and mother mortality and halving poverty?

“Imagine a country of 125 million people, the eleventh most populous nation in the world. This is like no other country we know: its citizens are without employment or shelter, and do not have the means to feed themselves or provide for their loved ones. Too many of their women die giving birth, and too few children are lucky enough to live until their fifth birthday. Those who do survive, especially the girls, do not attend school. They have been deprived of their dignity and live in insecurity. Above all, they are struggling to change their circumstances; they rely upon charity to survive.”

This is the introduction to the High-Level Panel Report on Humanitarian Financing to the Secretary-General, of the United Nations, Ban Ki Moon, released on Sunday, showing a shocking state of affairs facing the world caused by armed conflicts and natural disasters. In 2014, every day 42,500 people were displaced by violence and conflict. Over 53,000 people per day were forced from their homes by natural disasters, 90% of which were due to climate change. And the average stay of a refugee in a camp is now 17 years.

Is our world descending into flames? Is the evidence of growing humanitarian crises contradicting those who have raised their champagne glasses to toast the better world we live in, celebrating the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and, among other claims, drops in infant and mother mortality and halving poverty?

As the Report states “in today’s global economy of US$78 trillion it is unacceptable that anybody should die or live without dignity because we cannot find the resources required to help people in need.”

Yet this is happening despite a sharp twelvefold increase in humanitarian funding over the last 15 years to US$ 24 billion; still short of another US$ 15 billion needed today.

So what should we do?

In September 2015 global leaders committed themselves to “leave no one behind” when they launched the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Building on progress made with the pursuit of the MDGs, the SDGs aim to end extreme poverty, ensure all people have access to basic public goods and services and keep the rise in global warming under two degrees by 2030. They included a specific commitment to help refugees and displaced people.

What are the facts in 2015? More than 1.6 million Syrian refugees had their food rations cut, and 750,000 Syrian refugee children could not attend school. Food rations for Darfuris living in camps in Chad were cut from one month to the next. Healthcare services run by the UN have been closed across large parts of Iraq, leaving millions of internally displaced people without medical attention. Today we see the highest number of displaced people since the Second World War – over 60 million. There is an urgent need to start making the changes that are not only morally right, but also contribute to global stability.

As we seek to understand and tackle the root causes of the humanitarian crises, we need to debate the role of the UN and multilateralism. The Security Council, a post-WW2 anachronism, with five permanent members having a veto right, has consistently failed to deliver peace. In fact, the most devastating crisis of the recent times in Syria and Middle East is largely due to the geopolitical rivalries between powerful members of the Security Council, whose self-interest is still to carve up the world into areas of political and economic influence. As we move into the period where we start the process of selecting the new UNSG, the leadership we need is one that is inspirational, courageous and accountable not just to member states, but to us, citizens of the world.

In short, the UN needs to lead as its preamble 24 October 1945, states that: “We the Peoples of the United Nations determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained.”

The UN development system needs a fundamental restructuring to be fit for purpose for the outcomes we need in the 21st century. That means an unambiguous commitment to tackling the systemic issues that denies justice to large swathes of the global population. It means that the work of the UN cannot be driven by templates and bureaucracies. It must be tailored and determined by local conditions and empowerment of community organisations on the ground and continental and regional multilateral agencies.

The UN needs to get out of its comfort zone of risk aversion that paralyses actions to implement its original mission. The fear of being seen to fail so overwhelms the bureaucracy that they build endless controls, checks and balances into everything it does to measure and report on minor, short-term outputs. Its personnel may know the big picture of conflicting interests, complexities, contradictions and pitfalls, but they work under so many constraints that they shy away from tackling the complexities because, lest they be seen as failure. Many do not want to continue to work under these conditions.

It is only through willingness to take calculated but informed risks and to seek continuously ways to navigate political minefields that the dreams of our people can be achieved. While the Report does not go this far, it does call for massive resourcing to build local and national capacity for crisis prevention and response and for the convergence of strategies to deal holistically with the humanitarian, development and ecological crises that are source of huge increase in the migration of refugees fleeing climate change, poverty and fragile states incapable of meeting the needs of their populations.

We know that many of our problems may start locally, but soon become global geopolitical reality, as we have seen from Syria, Iraq, Somalia or any other place in the world. It requires a concerted global effort, including the consideration of a Tobin Tax on financial transactions in developed countries, to raise the resources needed.

The Report raises the idea of a “Grand bargain to establish an international solidarity levy mechanism to support the health welfare of displaced people, a Grand Bargain between the big donors and organisations in humanitarian aid … moving past self-interest… ensuring multi-year funding and towards building the humanitarian system of tomorrow, creating a win-win situation for donors, UN and non-UN agencies, taxpayers and, above all, affected populations.” In particular we need a “localisation of aid as evidence shows that only 0.2 per cent of international humanitarian assistance is channelled directly to local organisations in 2014.

The Panel proposes “more use of technology in order to listen and learn directly from affected people, including a concerted effort to reach and receive feedback from women who may have lesser access to communications technology; to support and funding tools to national first responders and to scale up use of cash-based programming and more coordination in its delivery and for donors to commit to more harmonized and simplified reporting requirements.”

Civil society must build the foundation for people-to-people solidarity from below, and a united front of active citizens to build a global campaign for peace. Without organised peoples’ movements’ support, the institutions that are there to guarantee us peace will lack the political will to deliver on their promises. Without a radical re-think of the way we organise, global campaigns will be denied the support they require to consolidate the new societies that we all wish to build, based on peace, social inclusion and shared prosperity. Humanity has no time to waste anymore. DM


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