Seeking change in aid delivery goal of World Humanitarian Summit: UN official

A man prepares food in a makeshift camp, in a gas station, for migrants and refugees near the village of Idomeni not far from the Greek-Macedonian border on April 30, 2016. Some 54,000 people, many of them fleeing the war in Syria, have been stranded on Greek territory since the closure of the migrant route through the Balkans in February. / AFP PHOTO / TOBIAS SCHWARZ

UNITED NATIONS, May 2 (Xinhua) -- The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) scheduled to be held on May 23-24 in Istanbul, Turkey, aims to help displaced people since World War II, said a senior UN official on Monday.

The goal of the Istanbul summit is to revamp, re-inspire and reinvigorate how aid is managed for now 125 million people "in dire need," nearly half of them conflict refugees and migrants, the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O'Brien, told reporters during a briefing here at UN headquarters in New York. "We want to make a better world."

There has been concern in the humanitarian aid community of the "silos" in which aid is distributed, be it among UN agencies, such as the World Food Program and the refugee and children's agencies, or from governments, private sector organizations and the international humanitarian community.

"The facts on the ground are changing," the undersecretary-general said after visiting several humanitarian crisis sites in the last seven months, including man-made problems, such as conflicts, and natural disasters, citing the recent earthquake in Ecuador. "It is incumbent on all of us engaged in humanitarian action to change as well."

"I think there is a genuine commitment to change, to find better ways of delivering," he said, adding that there was a need for "working more horizontally across the UN family", "making sure that we understand better to how to put effective people at the front and center of our response in crises."

He gave the example of a woman in a flood crisis who is given blankets when it may be better to give her a mobile phone to call for further help, "which well may be cash because the thing you need is cash to make markets work and if the shop is still open then, they can go and get the necessary supplies."

"These are the sort of strategic, big changes that we need to go through" at the summit, he said. "They may sound terribly mundane and practical as I say them now. But don't be in any doubt just what an enormous set of changes that means to get to that level of responsiveness."

While "change is very much the norm now," O'Brien said that in all these crises what is becoming clear is that, as when he visited Ecuador a few days after the earthquake, "when they are at such a scale no one country, no one organization can meet all of the needs."

"We are always going to need partners, collaborations, support, complimentary activities, strategic support," he said. "We need to recognize the scale of challenge and often the technological requirements are so huge that we need to find a way of forging bigger and better partnerships and strategic complimentary collaborations at all times."

"The UN is no less immune to that than anyone else," the undersecretary-general said. "It's not the system that's wrong. It's the scale of need that we would like to get down and let's make sure we have built sufficient entities that can come together to meet that scale of need rather than simply try to un-pickle that and still the scale of need will be out there."

O'Brien said in a member-state briefing last month that the WHS is seen as a platform for heads of state and government, leaders from civil society, the private sector, crisis-affected communities and multilateral organizations, "to announce their commitments to progress, and also to launch new initiatives and partnerships, and showcase innovative practices and ideas," rather than attend just another conference for pledging funds.

A "pledging conference" immediately following every major humanitarian crisis should be set as an example of change, he said, adding that he would like to see it changed into a more efficient way of being financially prepared to deliver aid through a mechanism permanently funded.