By Serkan Demirtaş
One of the most important United Nations meetings on humanitarian action is set to be held in Istanbul in May next year under the title of “World Humanitarian Summit,” marking a first of its kind.
It is particularly notable that the summit will not take place either in New York or Geneva, the headquarters of the U.N., but rather in Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, whose record in dealing with humanitarian crises in its immediate neighborhood, as well as its position as the third largest humanitarian donor in the world after the United States and the United Kingdom, is seen as inspiring for other countries around the world.
The U.N. has already begun works for the preparation of the next year’s World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) in cooperation with Turkey and its relevant institutions, particularly the Foreign Ministry and the Disaster and Emergency Management Agency (AFAD). Upon the invitation of the AFAD, I attended the U.N.’s preparatory regional consultation meeting in Budapest, and with a group of reporters had the opportunity to interview Jemilah Mahmood, the chief of the secretariat established for the summit.
“The WHS is a landmark summit. It’s the first time ever that the whole world will come together to discuss the challenges we are facing today and the challenges we’ll face in the future. It’s unique because it will bring together all the different stakeholders who are involved some way or another in humanitarian action,” she said.
The Istanbul summit will constitute a new beginning for humanitarian action at a time when the gap between funding and needs is widening, Mahmood added. “The summit is going to be historic as we begin the process to see how the system can be changed to become better and face all the challenges. This summit is not an end point but the beginning of a change,” she said.
The idea of holding a summit that would only focus on humanitarian action emerged out of U.N. Secretary of General Ban Ki-moon’s concerns, according to Mahmood.
“We are very fortunate that Turkey has taken a step forward to host the WHS. Turkey’s decision to host this summit is very important in many aspects. First of all, we are breaking traditions,” she stressed, referring to the decision to hold such a massive summit outside of the traditional centers of the U.N., such as New York or Geneva.
“So it’s a fresh new perspective. Turkey’s emergence as a donor is very important for the world humanitarian system and it has now become the third largest humanitarian donor globally. Turkey has also had to face a humanitarian crisis and it is hosting almost two million refugees. We all have a responsibility in humanitarian action and Turkey is a good role model for that,” Mahmood said.
Turkey’s Contributions to Humanitarian Actions
For Mahmood, the WHS will help Turkey become a “very strong voice as a non-Western actor” that can share its perspectives, which would be different from the Westerners.
“As Turkey has very rich and different culture compared to the West, it can bring unique perspectives. Turkey is also a melting point that can bring together all the different nations to Istanbul in 2016,” she said, calling on the Turkish government to push all governments, non-governmental organizations and private sector companies to attend the summit.
“Turkey’s position is unique and it’s a crossroad between East and West. So the message [of holding the summit in Istanbul] is very strong in terms of solidarity. We also hope that Turkey will push some of the ideas and recommendations that come out of the summit beyond 2016, demonstrating that it’s not all about talk, it’s about action,” she said.
Congrats To Turkish Government
Mahmood also expressed her gratitude for the Turkish government’s efforts to increase its humanitarian contributions.
“I would like to congratulate the Turkish government and officials for securing the leadership of the first WHS. Turkey has played a role to lead us to looking at new solutions and it needs to be a really strong partner not just for the summit but after the summit too,” she said.
“I hope the WHS that will be take place in Istanbul will ignite the flare of humanity. Turkey is recognized as a very important humanitarian country at the moment. Turkey can inspire other countries who have not been in the leadership role. It must be an inspiration for the counties that have normally never had a voice and seat at the table. The WHS summit will help the world see how Turkey responded to these crises and it will also help Turkey improve its partnership with other international partners,” she added.
‘Istanbul Sends a Strong Message to The World’
The opening of the regional consultation meeting took place on Feb. 3 with the participation of high-level representatives of the humanitarian community, such as U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Valerie Amos and Christos Stylianides, the European Commissioner responsible for humanitarian aid.
For his part, Stylianides underlined that selecting Istanbul to allow the humanitarian community to come together with other stakeholders was no coincidence, again using the popular “bridge” metaphor.
“Turkey is not only a bridge between the East and the West, but a symbolic bridge where different cultures and religions meet,” he said, strongly emphasizing that the humanitarian community rejected all kinds of cultural and religious discrimination.
“Holding the summit in Istanbul is a clear message to the world and to those who want to create a clash of civilizations,” he added.