Impossible choices are being made every day by more than 125 million people affected by crises and natural disasters. In fact, we are in the midst of the worst large-scale humanitarian crisis of our lifetime. Not since World War II have more people around the world been in desperate need of assistance as a direct result of ongoing conflict and violence.
This far-spread suffering is placing an unprecedented strain on the world's humanitarian organizations. From the crisis in Syria to the drought in Ethiopia, people around the globe are making impossible choices each and every day. Do we flee our home to escape civil war, leaving behind everything we know and love? With airstrikes imminent, what do we choose to save and what do we leave behind? Is asylum even an option? With so much at stake, our global leaders have only one choice: humanity. This is the time to stand up for the millions of people forced to leave their homes because of violent conflict and climate change. This is the time to create clear, actionable goals for change to be implemented within the next three years that are grounded in our common humanity, the one value that unites us all.
At the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in May, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon is asking our leaders to come to the table, take action and agree to a core set of actions that will chart a course for real change. This process of change was not born overnight but rather a direct result of three years of consultations with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries. The roadmap to guide the Summit, the Secretary-General's acclaimed report "One Humanity: Shared Responsibility," outlines a clear vision for global leadership to take swift and collective action toward strengthening the coordination of humanitarian and crisis relief.
Aptly referred to as an "Agenda for Humanity," the report lays out ground-breaking changes to the humanitarian system that, once put into action, will promptly help to alleviate suffering, reduce risk and lessen vulnerability on a global scale. It also specifies five core responsibilities that the international community must shoulder if we expect to end our shared humanitarian crises. These core responsibilities offer a framework for unified and concentrated action to Summit attendees, leadership and the public at large.
1. Prevent and End Conflict: Political leaders (including the UN Security Council) must resolve to not only manage crises but also to prevent them. They must analyze conflict risks and utilize all political and economic means necessary to prevent conflict and find solutions, working with their communities - youth, women and faith-based groups - to find the ones that work.
2. Respect Rules of War: Most states have signed and implemented international humanitarian and human rights laws, but, sadly, few are respected or monitored. Unless violators are held accountable each time they break these laws, civilians will continue to make up the vast majority of those killed in conflict. Hospitals, schools and homes will continue to be obliterated and aid workers will continue to be barred access from injured parties.
3. Leave No One Behind: Imagine being forcibly displaced from your home, being stateless or targeted because of your race, religion or nationality. Now, imagine that development programs are put in place for the world's poorest; world leaders are working to diminish displacement; women and girls are empowered and protected; and all children - whether in conflict zones or not - are able to attend school. Imagine a world that refuses to leave you behind. This world could become our reality.
4. Working Differently to End Need: While sudden natural disasters often take us by surprise, many crises we respond to are predictable. It is time to commit to a better way of working hand-in-hand with local systems and development partners to meet the basic needs of at-risk communities and help them prepare for and become less vulnerable to disaster and catastrophe. Both better data collection on crisis risk and the call to act early are needed and required to reduce risk and vulnerability on a global scale.
5. Invest in Humanity: If we really want to act on our responsibility toward vulnerable people, we need to invest in them politically and financially, by supporting collective goals rather than individual projects. This means increasing funding not only to responses, but also to crisis preparedness, peacebuilding and mediation efforts. It also means being more creative about how we fund national non-governmental organizations - using loans, grants, bonds and insurance systems in addition to working with investment banks, credit card companies and Islamic social finance mechanisms. It requires donors to be more flexible in the way they finance crises (i.e., longer-term funding) and aid agencies to be as efficient and transparent as possible about how they are spending money.
The World Humanitarian Summit and its Agenda for Humanity are necessary more today than ever before in history. The greatest humanitarian crisis that forces millions of people to make impossible choices and that we are witnessing today calls for collective action amongst ourselves and our global leaders. They have the power to close the gap between the world that is and the world that should be. We, as global citizens, must urge them to come together at the Summit, commit to action, choose humanity and help make impossible choices a thing of the past.