Colossus of Man-Made Misery Demands Fundamental Changes: UN Chief

Syrian children stand in the entryway of their tent shelter in the Bab Al Salame camp for internally displaced persons in Aleppo Governate. (Photo: UNICEF/Giovanni Diffidenti)

Colossus of Man-Made Misery Demands Fundamental Changes: UN Chief

With 'Agenda for Humanity,' Secretary General Ban Ki Moon calls for sweeping overhaul of global conflict response

With hundreds of millions of people across the planet facing the impacts of war, displacement, hunger, and other man-made crises, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon is demanding a "fundamental change" in how the international community responds to conflict--one that prioritizes political solutions and a preservation of humanity above all else.

The Agenda for Humanity, released Tuesday in advance of the UN's World Humanitarian Summit, lays out the responsibilities that global leaders should commit to as they rush to address numerous international challenges including climate-induced disasters, violent extremism, intractable conflicts, growing economic inequality, migration, pandemics and other global health threats.

At the forefront of this agenda is a call for "global leaders to place humanity--the concern for the dignity, safety and well-being of our citizens--at the forefront of all policies, strategies, and decision-making."

"Levels of need are at record levels, but the political solutions to relieve them are elusive," Ban declared in a speech in New York City on Tuesday at the launch of the report. "We need to restore trust in our global world order and in the capacities of our national and regional institutions to confront these challenges effectively. We need to show the millions of people living in conflict--with chronic needs and constant fear--the solidarity that they deserve and expect."

Speaking last week, Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson echoed the need for a "bold" political actions in response to what he described as "a number of atrocious man-made catastrophes."

"The suffering is enormous and international humanitarian law is being disregarded to a shocking degree," Eliasson said.

Without singling out any particular country at fault, the report states that people are "outrage[d] that national sovereignty and security are placed above people's rights to protection and assistance, and that the most basic tenets of international humanitarian and human rights law are violated every day without accountability."

Since first announcing the Summit in 2012, Ban has consulted with more than 23,000 people in 153 countries on these measures.

Further, the report notes that there is "frustration from governments and local organizations who struggle to be seen by the international community as the primary agents of response and to access resources, and feel their governance and coordination structures are pushed aside by international actors rather than respected and strengthened."

With a record 125 million people across the world now in need of humanitarian assistance, the report recognizes that "humanitarian action is still often used as a substitute for political solutions." Ban has requested that governments come to the Summit, which will be held in Istanbul in May, prepared to commit to a strategic shift through the core responsibilities laid out in the agenda.

These include increased political leadership, a commitment to adhering to international law in conflict zones, reinforcing national and local systems, preserving the dignity and rights of displaced peoples, sharing responsibility for addressing large-scale movements of refugees, and more transparent humanitarian financing.

International anti-poverty group Oxfam commended the report for its emphasis on the need for political action to address global crises.

"This couldn't be truer," said the group's humanitarian representative, Charlotte Stemmer, "The humanitarian system is overwhelmed with the amount of rising needs in a world racked by crises. World leaders should deal with world problems--and there is nothing more pressing than the number of crises that we are seeing now. They should not pay lip service to this, as concrete action is urgently needed."

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