The EU at World Humanitarian Summit: What’s in it for children?

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

World-Vision-op-ed [World Vision]

There are currently 125 million people in need of humanitarian assistance, writes Justin Byworth.

Justin Byworth, executive director for EU representation of NGO World Vision.

The gap between need and response is wider than ever with humanitarian appeals having risen by 600 per cent over the last decade and a humanitarian funding shortfall of $16.5 billion in 2016 alone.

Vice-President of the European Commission, Kristalina Georgieva, who co-chairs the UN’s high level panel on humanitarian financing, put it perfectly:  “the world has never been so generous and yet never before has our generosity been so insufficient”.

With these figures in mind, the challenge of fixing the humanitarian system seems daunting and unreachable. However, this is too important to fail. Today and tomorrow, world leaders will gather for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), following the call by the UN secretary general to stand up for our common humanity and take action to prevent and reduce human suffering. Five core principles will guide discussions in and around the Summit: prevent and end conflict; respect rules of war; leave no-one behind; working differently to end need and invest in humanity.  

With 110 countries’ delegation attending the summit, expectations are high and the humanitarian community has its eyes riveted on Istanbul, where the summit is taking place.

In-depth reform of the humanitarian system and ways of working can only happen if humanitarian actors truly collaborate collectively.  Only by joining forces can governments, the private sector, civil society organisations and most important the affected communities themselves, can the impacts of conflicts and disasters be mitigated, ensuring that no-one, from Syria to South Sudan, is left behind.

To move beyond delivering aid and towards reducing needs, World Vision is making a bold set of 12 concrete commitments at the summit. As a child-focused, multi-mandated organisation, World Vision aims to reach 20% of all affected children when responding to conflicts or natural disasters, and for national affiliates to be able to rapidly reallocate 20% of development funding to prepare and respond to humanitarian needs when disasters strike. By 2020, 50% of the organisation’s humanitarian aid will be delivered through a multi-sectoral and multi-purpose cash first approach.

As the world biggest donor of humanitarian aid, the EU has to seize the opportunity of the WHS to promote aid effectiveness and ensure the summit’s outcomes actually deliver for the most vulnerable children. The European Commission’s communications “Towards the WHS: A global partnership for principled and effective humanitarian action” and “Lives in Dignity: from Aid-dependence to Self-reliance – Forced Displacement and Development” are paving the way towards principled and effective humanitarian action and highlighting the need to protect children. However, the vital role of children and young people themselves is not sufficiently recognised.

Involve children and youth in humanitarian response

Children and youth are more than mere recipients of aid. They comprise half of the affected population in emergencies and it is estimated that 75 million children, aged 3-18, live in crisis-affected countries. They also know what their needs are, as well as those of the community they live in. The report ‘Putting children at the heart of the World Humanitarian Summit’ provides evidence of the contribution children can make to improve humanitarian effectiveness and drive innovation.  It is crucial to recognise them as agents of change and involve them in decision-making processes that impact their lives and well-being. This implies, among others, taking them seriously, treating them with respect and being accountable to them.

Education and child protection can save lives

Around 58 million school-aged children are denied access to education around the world with 36% of those children living in fragile or conflict contexts. When they do not attend formal or non-formal schooling, children are more vulnerable to violence, exploitation, neglect and abuse. Families and children themselves have consistently identified education and child protection as their main concerns during crisis. In spite of this, these two areas remain perpetually underfunded.

The European Commission has committed to spend 4% of its humanitarian budget in education in emergency. The Commission is now in an ideal position to become the champions of education in emergency and child protection. The EU must lead the way to ensure children are protected and educated for life even in time of disaster or conflict.

As millions of children are still expecting a brighter tomorrow, European and world leaders are now being looked up at with the hope that they will deeply reform the humanitarian system, ensure that aid is effective and deliver for the most vulnerable children in the hardest-to-reach places, by simply listening to them.

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