Antoine Gérard has just been appointed the new chief of the Secretariat in charge of preparing the World Humanitarian Summit, scheduled to take place in early 2016 in Istanbul. He has a tough job ahead of him if that Summit is to deliver anything substantial. While the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, has claimed that he expects “bold commitments to improve aid” there has been a growing storm around the WHS Synthesis Report and process. CARE observed, “There are no big new ideas here.” Médecins Sans Frontières suggests that it appears reform is off the table, and asked if the focus on technical fixes would “add up to the agenda for change that Ban Ki-moon was striving for”. Meanwhile, Southern NGOs see “a Western, international dominance determined to maintain itself – while paying lip service to the idea of localization.”
With apologies to my many friends on the WHS team, who have worked incredibly hard to listen to thousands of voices, the NGOs are right. The report mirrors the best and worst of the process. It is inclusive…and very very long. And in seemingly reflecting every word said during numerous rounds of regional consultations, it sacrificed coherence and focus on a clear set of achievable outcomes that would bring badly needed reform to a humanitarian system under great stress.
In May, I noted from the consultations that “the most conservative group appears to be senior-level aid officials from donor countries – many of whom fear that the system would stop working if changed in any way.” Based on this we urged the WHS Secretariat to collate ideas, offer a vision, and take it straight to the political level for action. But the report is scarce on specific proposals and fails to describe, in clear and digestible language, what future humanitarian response could look like. It does not propose outcomes which offer the right hooks for Member States to make “bold commitments” in order to deliver.
The next formal stage in the process is a Report of the Secretary-General. No one can plausibly expect the SG Report to offer big ideas that are not in the synthesis report; it is difficult for an SG Report to table ideas that haven’t previously been floated as trial balloons by predecessor reports or independent panels.
So what can the new director of the WHS Secretariat do to salvage the process in the next 12 weeks? In our opinion the WHS team must put forward clear ideas, expressed in the form of explicit outcomes, to help focus the pathway forward. At the same time, the discussion on the WHS must be moved to a serious political conversation among decision-makers. How?
1: Appoint a high-level special envoy.
Mr. Gérard should work closely with the Executive Office of the Secretary-General to, in the next ten days, have a high-level Envoy for the WHS appointed who would have access to the senior political level in key capitals. Such an Envoy should focus his or her efforts on key objectives and tasks outlined in the simple Terms of Reference proposed here.
Terms of Reference for the WHS Envoy
That’s it. The Envoy should have no tasks other than pure politics. To deliver, the Envoy needs to be a political consensus builder. An ideal person, in my opinion, would be a respected former Special Representative of the Secretary-General who understands the difficulty of reform but has moral weight. Ameerah Haq might be an example. Antonio Guterres would be another strong candidate if he were to step down in time, as he has moral stature. Kofi Annan – if he would accept – might be ideal. In short, it must be someone who has the right amount of political heft.
2: Produce public scenario papers
The WHS team, between now and the 15th of December (or the release of the SG report), should release 4 to 6 major “scenario papers”. These papers would draw on the legitimacy of the synthesis report, and some of the ideas buried deep in its text, in order to:
Taking these steps would significantly enhance the chances of ensuring a WHS with meaningful outcomes. It would offer a clear set of visions that Member States could buy into, in a public way. It would build pressure on Member States that would be content with a weak summit outcome because they would have to be able to respond to the question: why are you not building a system capable of such a response as we have described?