As this latest pledging jamboree begins, it's worth asking whether commitments have been fulfilled to the last one.
This week Turkey is hosting the first ever World Humanitarian Summit - one of the objectives of the summit is a new Grand Bargain between the 15 main donors and 15 main recipient networks. But will it result in the Agenda for Humanity that the UN Secretary General bravely called for in February?
Turkey is currently hosting the world's biggest number of refugees at nearly 3 million. It will be hard for those present to avoid the Syrian conflict raging nearby. The five core principles that Ban Ki Moon put on his agenda are vital for all Syrians but hopes for progress on any of them are fading. Who will be there to prevent and end conflict; to respect the rules of war; to ensure all displaced are not left behind by having access to education; to change people's lives by moving away from aid to addressing need; or to invest in humanity? The aims are high, the reality risks being a disappointment.
But wait. Haven't we heard some of this already this year? Not so grand, equally controlled by the host government, but with some nice announcements at the end. No commitments to ending conflict but quite a bit about helping those fleeing from conflict in Syria: quite a bit about providing education, decent work, livelihoods and safety. Ah yes, the conference on providing support to Syria and its neighbours in London in February. So what happened? Have those pledges made a difference to people's lives? How much has been delivered?
It is always difficult to follow up these kinds of commitments and despite the demands of NGOs at the London conference, no accountability mechanism was set up. So Concern Worldwide with the help of Christian Aid and Islamic Relief conducted some of its own research Still Paying the Price: and guess what? They found that by mid April 94% of donors had not turned those pledges into commitments. When people in Lebanon were asked if their lives had improved since the conference over three times as many beneficiaries said the situation has not changed or got worse compared to those that felt it had improved.
Action is needed to address this profound sense of hopelessness. Of course, the most important action would be to stop the conflict, even to prolong the ceasefire which is now in such jeopardy that humanitarian aid can't be delivered to starving people in Daraya and elsewhere. But for those governments that pledged funds and action in London in February it should also be possible to deliver on those promises. There are some simple actions that can be taken to make a real difference to refugee lives. In Turkey to help improve access to work permits and ensure decent working conditions, in Lebanon to remove charges for residency permits, in Jordan to extend the grace period on work permits in Jordan, and to make further and quicker progress on job creation, access to education and protection in all countries.
Will anyone be asking for such specifics at the World Humanitarian Summit? They might, especially the few Syrian NGOs who will be there in the side-lines campaigning hard for change, campaigning hard for the right for local NGOs to get more funding during humanitarian emergencies. They are, after all, the ones who understand their country's needs the most. This was supposed to be a summit to help their voice. I apologise for my cynicism but when it took Western NGOs to give up their place in London for Syrian voices to be heard, it is hard to be too hopeful that the Turkish government will be more generous. I hope I am wrong. In the meantime let's not forget those pledges that were already made and let's keep trying to hold governments to account for their past promises before they make new ones.
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