“There is a remarkable change towards acknowledging the role of faith-based communities and their resources to address humanitarian needs,” said Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC), during the World Humanitarian Summit (WHS), held in Istanbul, Turkey, 23-24 May.
“This is promising for those who need more assistance, and it is promising for the constructive cooperation needed,” he added.
The summit was the first of its kind in the 70-year history of the United Nations. The motivation came from the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, who called for humanity to be placed at the heart of global decision-making.
The framework of the summit was built upon the principle that, in order to deliver for humanity, stakeholders must act on five core responsibilities: preventing and ending conflict; respecting rules of war; leaving no one behind; working differently to end need; and investing in humanity.
The WCC was represented at the WHS by the general secretary Tveit and the council’s representative to the United Nations in New York, Rudelmar Bueno de Faria, as well as by several member churches, national councils of churches and partner organizations, such as ACT Alliance and its members.
For Tveit, “the world humanitarian summit comes at the time when there are great needs and the resources available for humanitarian aid are shrinking. What is available should be used more to mobilize the local capacities and to use the competence and human resources at hand, for example, in the churches,” he said.
The WCC general secretary also said that the summit showed the need of global actors to be more consistent in preventing humanitarian catastrophes. “Wars and armed conflicts as well as other human-made catastrophes from environmental problems and climate change can be prevented, but they are causing a significant part of the humanitarian needs we are facing today,” stated Tveit.
“One dollar investment in prevention of humanitarian catastrophes can save seven dollars from catastrophe responses. It is a matter of justice and of focusing on peacemaking and preventing conflicts. It is also a matter of proper stewardship to address the needs for prevention in due time, to avoid human suffering and to be more rational in use of funds that are not sufficient for all needs,” he concluded.
The WCC participated in several events of the WHS, including the preparatory event for faith-based actors attending the WHS, “Evidence for Religious Groups’ contribution to humanitarian assistance and the special session on Religious engagement: contributions from faith communities to humanitarian assistance.”
For Bueno de Faria, many religious institutions and faith-based organizations have a unique comparative role advantage in humanitarian contexts. “They have an established relationship of trust and familiarity with most local communities in which they are embedded. Due to their presence before a crisis, they are first responders and key providers of assistance and protection during a crisis, and many will stay after international organizations leave,” he said.
He also stressed that in addition to the role of churches providing first response in humanitarian crisis, they play a crucial role in preventing and resolving conflicts as well as promoting peacebuilding and reconciliation. “This is possible because of the inherent Christian imperative to promote human dignity, a concept closely related to the Pilgrimage of Justice and Peace,” added Bueno de Faria.
The WCC and member churches was present in the main session of the WHS, including the opening session and panel on Political Leadership to Prevent and End Conflicts. The WCC delegation met with several partners attending the summit, including Adama Dieng, UN special adviser on Genocide Prevention and Responsibility to Protect, to discuss the situation in Burundi; Justin Fortsyth, UNICEF deputy executive director, and Olav Kjørven, UNICEF director for Public Partnerships to discuss the existing partnership between both organizations.