The volume, cost and length of humanitarian assistance provision over the past ten years has grown dramatically, in large part due to the protracted nature of crises. For example, inter-agency humanitarian appeals now last an average of seven years and the size of appeals has increased nearly 400 per cent in the last decade. This trend has given new urgency to the long-standing discussion around better connectivity between humanitarian and development efforts. At the same time, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out not just to meet needs, but to reduce risk, vulnerability and overall levels of need, providing a reference frame for both humanitarian and development actors to contribute to the common vision of a future in which no one is left behind.
Against this backdrop, the largest number of stakeholders at the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS) identified the need to strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus and to overcome long-standing attitudinal, institutional, and funding obstacles. While nothing should undermine the commitment to principled humanitarian action, especially in situations of armed conflict, there is, at the same time, a shared moral imperative of preventing crises and sustainably reducing people’s levels of humanitarian need, a task that requires the pursuit of collective outcomes across silos.
It is this notion of “collective outcomes” that has been placed at the centre of the commitment to the New Way of Working, summarized in the Commitment to Action signed by the Secretary-General and 8 UN Principals at the WHS, and endorsed by the World Bank and IOM. Transcending the humanitarian-development divide by working to collective outcomes was also widely supported by donors, NGOs, crisis-affected States, and others and received more commitments at the WHS than any other area. The New Way of Working frames the work of development and humanitarian actors, along with national and local counter-parts, in support of collective outcomes that reduce risk and vulnerability and serve as instalments toward the achievement of the SDGs.
Ending needs by reducing risks and vulnerability is now a shared vision, under the SDG umbrella, that transcends this decades-old divide. The New Way of Working offers a concrete, doable and measurable path forward. The changes required to make this approach work are institutionally and financially complex and will need time to operationalize. The results, however, will not only improve the lives of the most vulnerable, but the reductions in risk and vulnerability are essential to ensuring that development progress is accessible to all communities, including those affected by crises.
This approach is highly context-specific. Humanitarian principles are immutable and must always guide humanitarian action and be respected. At the same time, respect for humanitarian principles and better coordination with a variety of actors are not mutually exclusive and humanitarian action can be undertaken in a way that can contribute towards achieving the SDGs. Determining whether humanitarian principles are at risk will require highly context-specific, pragmatic decisions to inform the best approach to increase coherence between development and humanitarian efforts.
"We must bring the humanitarian and development spheres closer together from the very beginning of a crisis to support affected communities, address structural and economic impacts and help prevent a new spiral of fragility and instability. This approach relates to the New Way of Working agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit. To achieve this, we need more accountability, on the level of each individual agency carrying out its mandate, but also its contribution to the work of the United Nations system and of the system as a whole. A strong culture of accountability also requires effective and independent evaluation mechanisms.”
António Guterres, UN Secretary-General-designate, December 2016
Jul 2015, Sana’a, Yemen. Zubeir (right) and his friend came to get water from this water point in Musaik, a neighbourhood of Sana’a. In this neighbourhood, more than 30,000 people are dependent on water distribution, according to GIZ, the German cooperation agency. Every day, three trucks of 3,000 liters each serve a few distribution points in the neighbourhood. The project is a cooperation between GIZ and UNICEF. Because of the commercial blockade and the lack of fuel, most water pumps are not able to function and people rely on water trucking. Credit: OCHA / Charlotte Cans