European Humanitarian Forum: a success that missed a few marks29 March 2023
Plan International shares three key take-aways following the 2023 European Humanitarian Forum and the Education in Emergencies High Level Conference.
© European Commission, 2023.
The 2023 European Humanitarian Forum took place at an important moment, with record numbers of people requiring humanitarian assistance, and brought hopes of renewed commitments to universal human values of compassion and the humanitarian principles.
Ahead of the Forum, Dr Unni Krishnan, Plan International Global Humanitarian Director, shared three priorities that would define whether the Forum lived up to expectations. Looking back, much of it was a positive surprise, but with some things left to be desired.
Prioritising the hunger crisis
The world is experiencing the worst hunger crisis in decades, amplified by armed conflicts, economic fallouts of COVID-19, and the climate break down. This complexity means different responses need to converge for sustainable solutions to be found.
Food insecurity was central and largely understood as a multi-faceted emergency. Young people’s contributions were powerful and painted a stark picture. Importantly, they brought forward a consideration that should have been much more prominent: the need for age-responsive and gender-responsive solutions.
A recent Plan International study presented new evidence on the gendered impacts of food insecurity and how it disproportionately affects girls and young women. Among others, it leads to increased gender-based violence and impacts on children’s access to school, with girls’ education disproportionately deprioritised.
Youth recommendations at the Forum included funding child-centred and grassroots organisations, creating linkages between food insecurity and the climate crisis, prioritising cash support, and following a rights-based and intersectional approach.
Similar concerns were raised by Plan International SAHEL Director Dr Fatoumata Haidara who, during the Education in Emergencies High Level Conference, linked education investments with the hunger crisis and acknowledged that the two should not be understood separately. This would, of course, force us to question our current trajectory as a sector, for instance, ask why only 3% of global humanitarian funds are for Education in Emergencies.
Like any crisis, food insecurity is not gender-neutral. Lack of an intersectional lens is a failure to follow empirical evidence and, ultimately, to prioritise the needs of those most affected.
All refugees are equal
Ukraine and the devastating earthquakes that hit Turkey and Syria were front and centre at the Forum, especially in high-level talks. This should be no surprise, as they continue to have catastrophic consequences.
There is growing criticism, however, that attention to some crises comes at the expense of others. All of them deserve our attention.
Less than a week before the Forum, the 2023 International Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants and their Host Countries and Communities took place. Today, there are over 7 million people from Venezuela living as refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.
Whether talking about Venezuelan refugees in neighbouring countries or Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, limited resources are amplifying human suffering.
Humanitarians work to support everyone, with our commitment to principled humanitarian action tested daily. The humanitarian principles are always the benchmark against what we say and do.
No-one’s suffering is less important than another’s. Our actions must showcase this at all times.
Advancing on local action
Expectedly, localisation was at the core of the Forum. But with everyone already in agreement, the question is how do we progress.
As international NGOs, we have a duty to not only look at donors for answers, but also inwards. A simple example is supply chain, a financial heavy weight in humanitarian response. Localising supply chains does not only benefit local communities but also contributes to carbon footprint reduction.
Looking outwards, DG ECHO’s guidance on “Promoting Equitable Partnerships with Local Responders in Humanitarian Settings” was one of the few new discussion points. Understanding localisation as a true partnership of equals is the only way forward and very welcomed.
The Forum shied away, however, from needed debate. One of the talks, for example, covered security risks for local partners and touched upon another responsibility shift: donor compliance risks. Despite the need for operational solutions – already discussed in the 2022 Forum – and despite the expertise in the room, no real exchange happened.
Such inconsistencies could be misunderstood as lack of trust to local partners which may stand in the way of genuine localisation of humanitarian work.
Striving for more
The one question that matters is whether we left the Forum better equipped. The answer is yes; but we should strive for more.
On one hand, the balance between speeches and discussion could have been better. There is a real appetite for dialogue. Much energy was spent on acknowledging global humanitarian needs, surely hardly required in such a setting. Looking at the nexus, for instance, humanitarians and donors alike still have many questions that were not answered. Despite the remarkable intelligence in the room, true debate was limited.
On the other, the organisers managed to bring together a great amount of expertise from around the world, not an easy task. This was a much-needed space for meaningful connections and informal exchanges on important matters, which can -and did- equip us to do our work better.
Thank you to the teams of DG ECHO and the Swedish Presidency of the Council of the EU for this needed event!
The piece is a summary assessment of the Plan International delegation to the 2023 European Humanitarian Forum and Education in Emergencies High Level Conference.