06 May 2021

Leading experts and officials representing prestigious organizations participated in an e-symposium organized by TRENDS Research & Advisory on Tuesday, highlighting the different dimensions of humanitarian efforts and their role in sustainable development.

The e-symposium – Humanitarian Work and Sustainable Development: Complementary Relationship – discussed important issues such as media and the culture of humanitarian work, implications of pandemics, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Agenda for Humanity. The symposium also discussed the UAE as a case study in a session titled, humanitarian works and the principle of tolerance.

Mohammed Hamdaoui, the Director of Economic Research Department at TRENDS, moderated the session. Humaid Rashid Al-Shamsi, International Aid Consultant at the Emirates Red Crescent, United Arab Emirates, delivered the keynote remarks. “The Emirates Red Crescent is playing a key role in supporting people in vulnerable across the globe without any discrimination based on race, religion, or ethnicities,” he said.

Hamad Al-Kaabi, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ittihad newspaper, UAE, discussed the role of the media and the culture of humanitarian work. “Media is the mirror that reflects strategies and visions of the communities adopted by the decision-makers,” Al-Kaabi said.

Explaining the UAE as a model of international aid, Abdulaziz Al Zaidi, the Head of Programs Department at the Zayed Charitable and Humanitarian Foundation, said the UAE is following the footprint of the late Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan’s vision of sustainable charity work. Highlighting the UAE’s humanitarian initiatives and tolerance track record, Rashed Al Hemeiri, the Director of Foreign Assistance Affairs department at Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, said the UAE’s foreign assistance program covers three categories – development assistance, humanitarian aid, and charitable aid.

“During 2010-2021, the UAE continued its commitment to advance global peace and prosperity, providing development, humanitarian and charitable support to several developing countries, including 50 Least Developed Countries. The total assistance during this period reached US$ 55.60 billion,” Al Hemeiri said.

Jacob Kurtzer, the Director of Humanitarian Agenda at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), United States, said humanitarian assistance in regions suffering from humanitarian emergencies is seen as a first step towards securing the stability necessary for meaningful and sustainable development.

“Yet, the proliferation of armed conflict, compounded by the impact of climate shocks and Covid-19, is straining existing humanitarian resources. Complex humanitarian crises, characterized by extensive violence and loss of life, widespread displacement, and damaged economies, pose unique operational challenges for the humanitarian system, impeding the achievement of sustainable development goals,” he said.

According to Kurtzer, the hindrance of humanitarian access is one of the most severe challenges, as state and non-state actors alike deny, delay, or divert aid from reaching vulnerable populations in need. “Actors in conflicts often politicize aid and turn life-saving assistance into a bargaining chip while sanctions and other restrictive measures imposed by donor states also create significant restrictions on the delivery of humanitarian assistance,” said Kurtzer.

Kurtzer said that Covid-19 created new and additional barriers to humanitarian assistance, including movement restrictions, hoarding of essential supplies, and new flashpoints for conflict. However, domestic response during the Covid-19 pandemic also offered opportunities for learning and studying alternative models of humanitarian action, as national and local first responders shouldered additional responsibility in managing crisis response.

“As efforts to harmonize and ensure coherence between humanitarian action and sustainable development continue, the question over which actors are best equipped to address the needs of vulnerable populations takes on increased salience. Learning the lessons from more localized, domestic-led responses to the Covid-19 pandemic can provide meaningful insight and direction for future efforts towards localizing humanitarian action, which in turn can pave the way to more sustainable development outcomes,” he said.

Speaking on humanitarian health in the pandemic age, Mukesh Kapila, CBE, Professor Emeritus, Global Health & Humanitarian Affairs, University of Manchester, United Kingdom, said pandemics from infectious conditions generate humanitarian crises if they overwhelm society and its capacity to cope with such events.

“That happens when a new virus comes along against which we have no biological defense, our health, and social systems are ill-prepared, and dysfunctional policy responses generate secondary impacts. That is likely to happen more and more in the future as environmental and demographic factors increase the spread of disease-causing vectors,” Kapila said.

He also said that the usual emergency and public health responses to managing infectious disease hazards are based on imposing social controls and restricting basic human rights. Such steps inevitably have more severe consequences on groups that already have a precarious existence on the margins of society. “In addition, modern disease-response technologies including digital communications are least accessible to poor people and others such as the elderly who are not likely to be familiar with them,” said Kapila.

According to Kapila, “humanitarian health” is a poorly-developed area as traditional humanitarian approaches have always been inadequate in dealing with crises caused by disease outbreaks. “That is because they tend to be limited to mitigating only the consequences, and do little to reduce risks and vulnerabilities, or to tackle the dysfunctional inequality-deepening impacts of mainstream health strategies.”

On the experience with Covid-19, he said that it offers an opportunity to re-think humanitarian preparedness and response in the modern age where disease emergencies are likely to become quite common. “That is especially important when such disease outbreaks happen in the contexts of disasters and armed conflicts and potentiate all negative impacts for all populations of humanitarian concern,” Kapila said.

The E-Symposium was live-streamed at TRENDS YouTube channel and its other social media platforms.