It Will All Change, Will It?

During my participation in  the World Humanitarian Summit we were again reminded of the fact that humanitarian assistance can never be a substitute for political action. In other words, it is better to prevent conflicts, wars and genocides, than allow it to happen and start providing humanitarian aid afterwards. Political leaders play an important role in administering and defining humanitarian aid in the current system. But is the aid effective in this way, addressing the needs asked for? The U

It Will All Change, Will It?

I have to think of 20 years ago: the camps with millions of Rwandan refugees in Congo, and my very capable Congolese colleague Masimango who worked with the refugees.  He was the coordinator of a program supported by ICCO Cooperation and Kerk in Actie, members of  the ACT Alliance; not only assisting the refugees, but also participating in frequent overarching UN coordination meetings. I remember how he informed me, in his usual diplomatic and humorous manner, that ‘this meeting was too much western dominated, and that that resulted in the aid not having the effect it could and should have’. Thanks to Masimango, I got to know an innovative and renewing view for those times, which beliefs in an aid system away from western domination, but moving towards localization based on the needs and capacities of local people in affected areas.

Masimango became an Anglican Bishop and a leader in Congo. He is still active in humanitarian aid. I meet him again at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul. Masimango for the ACT Alliance, and I for the Dutch Relief Alliance*. This is the first UN conference at global level where humanitarian issues are being discussed in such a way that maybe something is going to change. Political leaders, the UN and NGOs are working towards this change, to try to change the current system of humanitarian aid to be able to provide people in areas of conflict and environmental disasters with better assistance  in times of need.

20 years later after Congo, Masimango still advocates for localization of humanitarian aid. Together with many political leaders and NGOs; The Dutch Government has officially stated  in a letter to Parliament that it would like the local actors to be more at the centre of humanitarian action. They would like to see that the Dutch Relief Alliance also plays a role in this. In the ranks of the aid organizations there is cynicism and hope.  In many countries as well as in The Netherlands, aid organizations have been preparing this process for years and invested a lot of time and effort in it. But vested beliefs and interests in the aid sector and beyond cause the process to move slowly.

Video: ACT Alliance members at the World Humanitarian Summit say what is the key thing that they heard from the Summit that they are taking back to their organisation and community.

So with about 4.000 participants and over 50 state leaders here in Istanbul, the question is: will it change? Will victims of disasters and wars and their organizations get more control of the aid that they need, and will political leaders try more to solve conflicts before they run out of hand? It is undeniable that the Summit offers an opportunity for discussion and putting these beliefs and interests to the test. It offers a starting point for working FOR but also WITH people in affected areas and to prevent future suffering.

We have our responsibility to help changing the existing humanitarian system. We belief in the people, in their strengths and their resilience. We have to support them, capacitate them and strengthen them were needed.

It will all change, will it? Time will tell, but the World Humanitarian Summit offers some opportunities to “walk the talk together”

 * Evert van Bodegom, on behalf of ICCO and Kerk in Actie, is  this year the chair for  the DRA. The Dutch Relief Alliance (DRA) responds to major international crises in a timely and effective manner. The Alliance is a cooperation of 14 Dutch NGO’s, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Dutch Relief Alliance consists of the following organisations: CARE Nederland, Cordaid, Dorcas, ICCO and Kerk in Actie, Oxfam Novib, Plan, Save the Children, Tear, Terre des Hommes, Stichting Vluchteling, War Child, Wartrauma Foundation, World Vision and ZOA.

Author Evert van Bodegom
More articles by Evert van Bodegom

As of 1st January 2021 ICCO has joined forces with Cordaid and continues as one organization under the name Cordaid.

ICCO’s international website will remain online for the time being and can be visited here or go to Cordaid: