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Rising Tide of Humanitarian Crises Demand More Than Aid

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The latest images of dead and wounded children in Gaza that have flashed across our TV screens in recent days are among the most horrific of a summer where the world has appeared to lurch from one humanitarian crisis to the next. From civil war in Syria, via burgeoning conflict in the Ukraine to impending famine in South Sudan, foreign news has been dominated by disaster with precious few bright spots in the gloom.

Sadly, such a situation is becoming increasingly common in recent years. As Oxfam's Annual Report, published this week shows, Oxfam responded to 24 humanitarian emergencies during 2013-14 - the equivalent of a new one every fortnight. In reality, of course, we're responding to multiple crises at any one time - crises which last for months or even years.

The worrying reality is that we're living through a period of time when humanitarian crises - both those caused by conflict and extreme weather - are on the increase.

Unless we want to see millions more children suffer the same fate as those bombed in Gaza or malnourished in South Sudan then we need to provide help to those who need it. But that alone is not enough: we also need our leaders to set aside their narrow political interests and act together to combat climate change and reverse the rising tide of violence around the globe that according to the Global Peace Index has seen violence and instability increase in each of the last seven years.

The good news is that the UK public remains as generous as ever. Donations to last year's Philippines Disasters and Emergency Committee Appeal reached a staggering £95 million. Despite hardship at home, our annual report shows that donations to emergency appeals allowed us to help six million people caught in disasters.

Such donations make a massive difference but we cannot afford to be complacent. As NGOs we need to find new ways to convince the public to part with their hard earned cash earlier, in order to prevent crises from occurring. As Ian Burrell reported recently about South Sudan, "it sometimes takes the f-word to galvanise people". Famine that is.

Public generosity needs to be matched by governments and international organisations. The UK Government is providing its share of aid for the crises in both Syria and South Sudan but overall only half the $1.8 billion the UN says is necessary prevent a catastrophic deterioration of the situation in the world's youngest country has so far been committed.

Beyond immediate aid efforts, we need our leaders and international institutions to exert greater political pressure on protagonists in conflict areas to protect civilians and ultimately reach negotiated solutions.

This is particularly true of the current Gaza crisis. With more than 1,400 people killed, three quarters of them civilians and a staggering two-thirds of Gazans without regular access to water and sanitation, the international community can't just wait for the bombs and rockets to run out. UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon's strong condemnation of the 'outrageous' attack on a school sheltering refugees needs to be turned into concrete action. Concerted pressure needs to be brought to bear on both sides to turn the current fragile pause in fighting into a lasting ceasefire, end the blockade and ultimately find a political solution that gives people on both sides a real chance of the peace and prosperity they crave.

Finally, the international community needs to act together to address the global trends - inequality, climate change and pressure on natural resources - that are fuelling conflicts.

The spark that lit South Sudan's conflict in December 2013 was a political dispute but the combustible material was not just a fragile state but a society riven by extreme poverty where armed young men with few opportunities loot cattle to pay the price of a bride and so perpetuate tit-for-tat feuds between rival groups.

In Syria, the prevailing narrative speaks of politics both domestic and geopolitical. What is less often acknowledged is that the Syrian conflict started in 2011, the fourth consecutive year that the country had experienced severe drought. It also followed economic reforms that fuelled rising inequality, not least by cutting subsidies that helped the poorest.

This is not just a humanitarian imperative; it is in all our interests to act. In the globalised 21st Century conflicts are not easily contained by borders. As the Stern Review made clear, tackling climate change will ultimately be cheaper than allowing it to proceed unchecked.

But it is the human cost of these crises, the children of Gaza, the homeless Philippines and the South Sudanese families who do not know where their next meal is coming from that really demand our action. The UK public have shown they are up to the task; it is time for world leaders to do likewise.

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