Helen Clark: Speech at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD)

Helen Clark: Speech at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD)

Helen Clark: Speech at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (DIHAD) Conference

March 21, 2016

At the outset, let me acknowledge Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, UN Messenger of Peace, and Chairperson of International Humanitarian City, Wife of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and thank her for hosting this important conference.

My sincere thanks also go to His Highness Sheikh Hamdan Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and members of the DIHAD Higher Committee for inviting me to speak today on ‘Innovation in Humanitarian and Development Actions’.

This conference could not be more timely. We live in extraordinary times with huge numbers of people affected by conflicts and disasters. Humanitarian crises are more complex and last longer than ever before. According to the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, there are now around sixty million people forcibly displaced from their communities, the highest number ever recorded. Over half of the world’s refugees are children.

More than 1.4 billion people now live in areas affected by fragility. In the UN Secretary-General’s report for the World Humanitarian Summit, that number is projected to grow to 1.9 billion by 2030. Sadly, many of these fragile environments have become fertile breeding grounds for the trafficking of people, weapons, and drugs, and in a number of cases for violent extremism too.

Over the last twenty years, disasters have killed 1.3 million people, affected more than four billion people, and cost the global economy at least USD2 trillion. With ongoing climate change, we can expect worsening weather for decades, causing more frequent and intense storms, floods, and droughts.

Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that humanitarian spending has tripled in the last ten years – yet it can’t keep pace with the growing needs. It would be an understatement to say that this situation is not sustainable. That is why we need innovation in humanitarian and development action.

Of course the longer term answers lie in development. Humanitarian needs will shrink decisively when and where more sustainable development is achieved. That will require much more investment in effective disaster risk reduction, and in building peaceful and inclusive societies where differences are talked through and mediated rather than addressed through armed conflict. To support reaching these objectives, humanitarians, development actors, and peacebuilders will need to work better together.

But rethinking how we collaborate must also apply to how we respond to the protracted conflicts which the world is currently witnessing. The traditional “relief first and development later” approach is not tenable in the kinds of complex and protracted crises we face today. People in Syria, for example, are now mired in the sixth year of the country’s conflict; their lives cannot just be put on hold for year after year. People have needs for incomes, schooling, and health and other basic services. It is not a question of either relief or development: in such a context both are badly needed.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development agreed by UN Member States last year can be a common frame of reference for both developmentandhumanitarian work, and for advancing peaceful and inclusive societies. It is a transformational agenda, universal in scope, and ambitious in its aspiration to ‘leave no one behind’. The agenda must be relevant to refugees, IDPs, and people in conflict affected countries too.

In his report for the Summit, the Secretary-General has proposed three fundamental shifts in the way the international community works in response to crises and disasters. He suggests that:

  • we must reinforce national systems, and not replace them;
  • we must be better at anticipating where crisis might occur, and not wait for crisis to happen and trigger emergency responses; and
  • we must work to transcend the humanitarian-development divide.

At the UN Development Group, which is inclusive of the UN’s humanitarian agencies, we agree with this approach. Accordingly we are pursuing:

  1. more integrated and innovative approaches to analysis, planning, and programming across humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding organizations;
  2. advocating for multi-year and flexible financing of humanitarian, peacebuilding and development actions in crisis environments;
  3. re-asserting the critical importance of prevention and preparedness; and
  4. focusing emergency development efforts at the local level.

Let me elaborate on these four points:

First, on the importance of integrated approaches to analysis, planning, and programming

A shared understanding of political and institutional environments and having common platforms for analysis and action are critical for designing more comprehensive responses to crises. In New York, the Secretary-General is now establishing a central capacity to strengthen joint analysis and planning across the UN system.

A current example of joint planning is the Integrated Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP) which responds to the needs of refugees and host communities in the neighborhood of Syria. The 3RP brings together a broad range of partners to plan and manage operations using one common data management platform. We are seeing considerable innovation; for example:

  • partners are sharing early warning information gained through remote sensing technology, and
  • they are undertaking integrated analysis and assessments of needs in real time, including by applying electronic game design approaches.

The outcome is more effective joint planning, advocacy, fundraising, information management, and monitoring.

Second, on the importance of flexible development and humanitarian financing.

Over the years, development funding has often been suspended when a crisis occurs. That can mean that limited humanitarian resources must then be stretched in order to address broader needs. The early recovery niche occupied by development actors is traditionally underfunded – it falls between two stools because it is often not perceived as fitting either humanitarian or development funding criteria.

Yet, investments in emergency development initiatives which shrink the need for relief are vital. As I said earlier, humanitarian appeals have more than tripled in just one decade. Last year they reached an all-time high of around $25 billion. As well, appeals are one thing – responses are another: only fifty to sixty per cent of humanitarian requirements have been funded on average each year over the last decade.

The recent report of the Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing warned that if current trends continue, by 2030 the cost of humanitarian assistance would have risen to at least $50 billion per year. This is not sustainable – and nor would reliance on relief alone be the most effective response.

Many partners now accept that when addressing protracted crises, a mix of actions which meet vital relief needs and strengthen the resilience of families and communities is needed. Specialized funds and pooled funds can be used, and are being used, to support coherent humanitarian and development actions in such situations. For example:

  • TheUN Ebola Trust Fundwas among a new generation of financing mechanisms which facilitate the blending of development and humanitarian funding. It was designed to address the complex set of humanitarian, emergency response, and development issues presented by the Ebola crisis. Eleven UN Entities drew on it in support of humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding actions across the three affected countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea;
  • InSomalia,the UN is managing humanitarian and development financing in an integrated way under the authority of the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General who is also the UN Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator. The Somalia UN Development and Reconstruction Fund is operating in tandem with the Humanitarian Fund for Somalia. A system of cross referencing between these humanitarian and development funding streams enables one pooled fund to refer projects which fall outside its scope to the other.

UNDP itself is working on innovative crowdfunding to support development work in emergency contexts. For example,

  • InYemen, UNDP launched a crowdfunding platform, “Yemen Our Home” last December. It links the Yemeni diaspora with projects supporting emergency development initiatives in conflict-affected communities. In January, collaboration with the Arab Association of Singapore was launched to facilitate members of the diaspora extending their support to conflict-affected communities back in Yemen.

Third, on the importance of prevention and preparedness:

UNDP has a simple message:

‘If development isn’t risk informed, it isn’t sustainable development.’

Yet, only a small fraction of Official Development Assistance is invested in actually reducing disaster risk. According to the UN Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, “for every $100 spent on development aid projects, just forty cents has gone into protecting countries from succumbing to natural disasters”. The Panel cites the example of twelve low-income countries which, between them, received 5.6 billion in disaster response funding over twenty years, but received less than US$ 10 million to reduce their disaster risk in that same period.

Investment in addressing the drivers of conflict has also been woefully small. At this time of overwhelming demand for humanitarian responses, our focus should surely be on how the need for those responses might have been averted - had there been more investment in addressing the root causes of conflict.

In the Central African Republic, for example, the aid community spent more in the past two years to respond to the crisis through security and humanitarian interventions than it had spent over the previous ten years in development assistance.

UNDP takes a comprehensive approach to prevention across disaster risk reduction and potential conflicts. We invest in conflict-sensitivity analysis, and in early warning systems, risk reduction, and preparedness. We have a presence in countries before, during, and after crises and disasters which enables us to sustain long term development efforts. We deploy around forty Peace and Development Advisors to support UN Resident Co-ordinators and Country Teams, with support from the Department for Political Affairs and the Peacebuilding Support Office.

It is critical to engage women in disaster risk reduction and crisis prevention; yet support for investment in this area has also been low. With one billion fewer female cell phone users than male users, “disaster alert” systems are not tapping into important networks in local communities. We are working to address this, and also to support implementation of Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 2242 on Women, Peace, and Security.

Fourth, on continued development support at local level during crises which maintains dignity and reduces the need for relief

Where there is violent conflict it can be difficult to engage fully with national governments. In these situations, strengthening local services and empowering local communities can go a long way towards strengthening resilience and ensuring that the support given is responsive and relevant to community needs. Ongoing livelihoods, jobs, civil protection, access to education and to health and other basic services, such as sanitation and waste management, are very important to people during conflict, and crises. Where people can be supported in these areas, they should be. The Syrian crisis presents a compelling case for continued local development actions during crises, and UNDP and other development actors are active at that level.

We also seek to involve youth in innovative ways in response to crises. For example:

  • inYemenlast year, young people on temporary work schemes helped to remove huge amounts of accumulated solid waste in Saada, Taiz, Aden, Sanaa, and Hajjah, thereby reducing risks of disease to the population in those governorates.


In conclusion, this is the year when the international community must make major strides on working more effectively across what have been the humanitarian, development, and peacebuilding silos. Resources are finite, and they need to be used more effectively, particularly if the 2030 Agenda commitment to ‘leave no one behind’ is to be honored. Strengthening co-ordination across the development, humanitarian, and peacebuilding communities is the fundamental shift which is urgently needed; and there is encouraging progress. But we must do more, and quickly.