05/27/2016 10:04 EDT | Updated 05/28/2017 05:12 EDT

Humanity Must Take The High Road To Solve Real Issues

John Lund via Getty Images
Rippling water over map of globe
Médecins Sans Frontières' recent decision to pull out of the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) has certainly garnered much public attention. The agency pulled away from the Summit on the premise that the inaugural gathering would "not address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations." This was unquestionably, a bold move and position that should be applauded.

But the world is still witnessing the highest level of human suffering since the Second World War. So, what did walking away really accomplish?


Refugees line up to register for relief aid in Mahama refugee camp (Photo: Plan International)

The world's problems will not be resolved overnight, which is why we shouldn't expect a definitive resolution on how to better address humanitarian emergencies to stem from a two-day gathering of like-minded global humanitarian advocates. However, part of being a responsible member of a global coalition of the willing is having the fortitude to keep participating in challenging, and even frustrating, conversations.

In advance of the recent Summit the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, tabled a highly ambitious vision for change, within its Agenda for Humanity. Humanitarian advocates across the international development sector would have been remiss if concerns about the premise of the Summit's agenda weren't vocalized, particularly given that conflicts and crises continue to wreak havoc on the lives of the world's poorest citizens.


Tuareg girls fetch water from a water hand pump in Mentao camp for Malian refugees (Photo: Mike Goldwater)

The Summit was held against a backdrop of unprecedented humanitarian needs and challenges. Today, approximately 60 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. Violent conflicts, forced displacement and an upsurge in climate-related disasters are fuelling these needs.

According to the World Health Organization, more than 80 per cent of countries that did not achieve the U.N.'s Millennium Development Goals - the world's quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty - have endured a recent conflict, a natural disaster or both.

As a global collective grounded in humanity as a common value and fully aware that millions of people in humanitarian crises and conflicts worldwide are in need of solutions, now is the time to put differences aside and begin to address the suffering of millions of people affected by humanitarian crises -- particularly young girls.


Panelists discuss the importance of investing in women and girls at Women Deliver in Copenhagen (Photo: Leila Lahfa)

On the heels of the recent Women Deliver conference, which I recently attended in Copenhagen, and the G7 Summit in Japan, the WHS was a welcomed platform to further reinforce the Sustainable Development Goals' commitment of leaving no one behind - particularly for the millions of girls in fragile settings who remain invisible and often overlooked by humanitarian aid and international assistance.

Adolescent girls (ages 9-15) increasingly face some of the most extreme risks and challenges during disasters and crises. They are also among the groups most frequently missed by international assistance. While the rights and needs of women and children are recognized in emergency policy and planning, the specific needs and rights of adolescent girls are all too often ignored.

As an organization focused on the needs and rights of girls, boys and youth from the most vulnerable groups and communities, Plan International welcomed the high priority, accorded by the Secretary General, to reach the most vulnerable, echoing the 2030 Agenda and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.

In fact, Plan International, along with sector colleagues, is currently working to develop a revolutionary data tracker that will monitor the impact of the Sustainable Development Goals, track progress that holds all stakeholders accountable, and put adolescent girls' and women at the forefront of humanitarian response while empowering them to contribute to the decision-making processes of their communities and their society.


Girls learning at a temporary learning centre in Nepal built by Plan International (Photo: Plan International / Max Greenstein)

On a broader scale, the WHS was an opportunity for Canada to re-establish its leadership on the protection of children in armed conflict, through reaffirmation of the rights of children under the Geneva Conventions, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Security Resolutions on children and armed conflict including the rights to assistance and care, rapid identification and family reunification, as well as education, which becomes much more acute in emergencies.

The Honourable Marie-Claude Bibeau's announcement on the final day of the WHS, of an additional $331.5 million in humanitarian assistance funding to help meet immediate life-saving needs and address unprecedented humanitarian challenges, is a welcome step in the right direction. As the Minister acknowledged, women and girls, who are often the most vulnerable in crises, should be at the heart of Canada's humanitarian response.

With the safety and dignity of millions of people at stake, it's time to take the high road for humanity and collaboratively commit to action to address human suffering in real-time and help make their impossible choices a thing of the past.

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