The death of hundreds of thousands of people and death of hundreds of migrants off the coast of Libya is not only deeply saddening – it should shock the global conscience. The Mediterranean is fast becoming a sea of misery for thousands of migrants. More than twice as many migrants have died at sea in the past year than on the Titanic. And this truly titanic humanitarian tragedy highlights yet again the need to address the plight of migrants, to crack down on the criminals who exploit the most vulnerable, and to strengthen rescue capacity in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Italy, Greece and Malta have borne the biggest burden in terms of rescue and arrival operations. I urge the European Union to show solidarity by accelerating its support.
Record numbers of people are fleeing war and persecution. As migrants face discrimination, violence and exploitation, they urgently need our protection during their hour of greatest need. Today we have also seen the great peril that humanitarian and development workers face in so many places around the world. I condemn the attack today in Somalia in which several UN staff, including from UNICEF, were killed and injured. The men and women who bring humanitarian action to life are an inspiration to us all. Those who died in today’s attack were not only from Somalia but from other countries that have been in crisis, showing the solidarity that is humanitarian action at its best. Targeting such brave and dedicated individuals for violence is an attack on us all. We must do our utmost to bring the perpetrators to justice – and to ensure that humanitarian personnel have the security they need to carry out their vital work.
In tandem with September’s Summit on the post-2015 sustainable development agenda and December’s climate change conference in Paris, the World Humanitarian Summit will be a key element of our global agenda for change and action to better serve the world’s people, above all the most vulnerable members of the human family. I would like to thank the Government and people of Turkey for agreeing to host the Summit and for their strong commitment to making it a great success. We look to the World Humanitarian Summit to generate strong global support for bold changes in humanitarian action. This is the only way we will meet the enormous challenges we face in the coming years and decades. The world is changing, and we need to make sure we change with it to meet the needs of those affected by crisis in a timely and effective manner.
Global humanitarian action encompasses many actors. First and foremost are the affected communities, who are the first responders. Major roles are also played by Governments, civil society, NGOs, the corporate sector, UN agencies, academics, diaspora networks and others. The World Humanitarian Summit will therefore be inclusive and wide-ranging in order to capitalize on our respective strengths and to come up with the new thinking that is needed. I urge you all to play a full part in this global search for solutions. Humanitarian action is saving lives every day.
The UN alone feeds 90 million people around the world each year and vaccinates 58 per cent of the world’s children, saving some three million lives annually. Governments, non-governmental organizations, and partners such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies also help many millions. But humanitarian action faces immense challenges. Urbanization, population growth, environmental degradation, conflict, climate change and resource scarcity are adding to the consequences of underdevelopment, poverty and inequality, leaving people more and more vulnerable. Natural disasters happen more often, do more damage, last longer, and in many places recur before people have even had a chance to recover.
The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance around the world has doubled in just ten years. More people are displaced by conflict than at any time since 1945. That figure stands at over 51 million refugees. People displaced within their countries because of conflict are now displaced for an average of 17 years. Millions of children are out of school, sometimes for years. And the situation is getting worse. By 2050, we estimate that up to one billion people could be displaced by climate change. Economic losses from natural disasters have now reached $300 billion annually, and are projected to increase dramatically. By 2050, it is estimated that more than 40 per cent of the global population will be living in areas of severe water stress.
Even if today’s conflicts ended tomorrow, humanitarian needs would persist and recovery could take decades. Last month’s World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan, took important steps forward. Our challenge is clear: we must act now to strengthen our efforts. The World Humanitarian Summit, and the consultations leading up to it, aim to build a more inclusive, diverse and truly global humanitarian system. Since I announced the Summit in September 2013, there have been five regional consultations. I thank the Member States that have hosted and funded these, and all the Governments and partners that have been involved.
We have consulted in person and on-line with people affected by crises, community-based groups, private sector organizations, diaspora networks, academia and youth groups. I look forward to the outcome of the three remaining regional consultations. The issues and recommendations from the full series of gatherings will then be discussed at a thematic meeting in Berlin, Germany, in September of this year and at the global consultation meeting in Geneva in October. This process will provide building blocks for the changes we must undertake at the global, regional and national levels.
We must aim high. Along with the The World Humanitarian Summit is a major opportunity to align major global commitments to support the world’s most vulnerable people. At the summit, we need to reaffirm the humanitarian principles that guide our work. We need bold agreements on how to protect people in conflict and ensure robust action when there are violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. We must hold accountable those who violate these fundamental norms.
We need to agree on how to close the gap between growing humanitarian needs and the resources available to meet them. I am establishing a High-level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, and its recommendations will help to frame the Summit discussions. We need to be ambitious in finding new ways for the humanitarian community to work with development and other actors so that communities and people become more resilient to shocks and less reliant on humanitarian aid. And we must continue the process of reform to enhance our operational effectiveness, building on the elements of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee Transformative Agenda.
The World Humanitarian Summit must focus the world’s attention on people caught in crisis, especially those that may have receded from the spotlight but where suffering remains acute. The Summit will be a platform for Heads of State and Government, and leaders from civil society, the private sector, crisis-affected communities and multilateral organizations, to announce how they intend to act on the priority areas outlined in my report, which will be available in early December. It will also be an opportunity to join the efforts of the humanitarian community with other actors from development, peacebuilding and peacekeeping for a more coherent approach in the achievement of our common goals.
Together, we can create a world where human suffering from crises is vastly reduced. We have the skills, resources, tools and technology. We need your support for game-changing approaches and transformational actions. I call on you all to join me next year in Istanbul to commit to a new vision for humanitarian action. We owe it to the millions of people affected by crises around the world to ensure lives of dignity for all.
This column is the text of the UN Secretary-General’s remarks to Member States briefing on the World Humanitarian Summit, New York, 20 April 2015.