Catholic aid officials: we must fix the “broken” humanitarian system

Catholic and other humanitarian leaders said it was time to overhaul the global humanitarian system because the current aid structure is failing to reach those most in need.

"Our collective unwillingness to prevent or prepare adequately for disasters is a systemic moral failure," Sean Callahan, Catholic Relief Services' chief operating officer, told the World Humanitarian Summit May 24.


"Too many innocent people suffer from the consequences of disasters caused by or aggravated by human action and inaction. It is the time to reform the global humanitarian system," Callahan urged the 5,000 gathered, most of whom say the "broken" humanitarian system must be fixed to cope with the largest global humanitarian crisis since World War II.

Callahan said more must be done by governments "to prevent and end wars, respect humanitarian laws and provide more generous" humanitarian assistance. He urged the U.N. system also to "embrace more transparency and accountability for impact."

The United Nations said violent conflict was the overriding reason that overwhelming humanitarian requests had increased 600 percent in the past 11 years, to more than $20 billion today.

Earlier in the summit, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, appealed for the "urgent necessity to prevent and to end armed conflicts and violence among peoples and states," calling on political leaders to "no longer primarily rely on military solutions; but rather invest in development, which is essential to durable peace and security."

Cardinal Parolin said the Vatican would work tirelessly alongside governments, civil society and others to promote conflict prevention and foster "informal and formal diplomacy," including interreligious dialogue, saying "religions must be a positive force in preventing and ending conflicts."

He also noted Pope Francis' appeal that the people must always be at the center of humanitarian actions.

"In our highly interconnected world, the use of force and armed conflicts affect, in different ways, all nations and peoples. No one is spared," Cardinal Parolin said. "A culture of dialogue and cooperation should be the norm in dealing with the world's difficulties."

"Heavy reliance on military intervention and selfish economic policies is shortsighted, counterproductive and never the right solution for these challenges," the Vatican secretary of state noted.

Callahan pledged Catholic Relief Services would do its part to reform and improve global humanitarian action by providing "urgent lifesaving assistance with a focus on full recovery while respecting people's dignity."

C.R.S., the U.S. bishops' international relief and development agency and part of the church's Caritas network, has a global reach. Among other projects, it is currently involved in helping to provide food, household items and drinking water to some of 350,000 Sri Lankans affected by monsoon rains that have triggered landslides and flash floods.

It also supplying emergency assistance and promoting employment opportunities in the Gaza Strip. The coastal enclave is still recovering from intense fighting in 2014 between Israel and Palestinian militant groups and has the highest unemployment rate in the world.

Meanwhile, C.R.S. has also worked with partners to pioneer the use of sensor technology to strengthen water conservation in northern Kenya.

Callahan said C.R.S. will "only go as needed" and "tailor all responses to local contexts and needs, always following the lead of those affected." He said it would also expand the use of cash to meet the multiple needs of affected populations, with the aim of using cash in all C.R.S. programming by 2020, when appropriate.

Ultimately, Callahan said C.R.S. wants to "empower people and local partners to take greater ownership of their own destiny. We are ready to support and work alongside others—governments, donors, NGOs and international agencies—who share these same objectives and agree that the time is now for real change."

Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, told Catholic News Service the international community was "failing to reach those most in need of help in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and northern Nigeria" because it was so difficult to reach the internally displaced in these conflict zones.

On the last day of the World Humanitarian Summit, the council said that up to 50,000 Iraqi civilians are believed to be trapped in the besieged town of Fallujah, with the recent outbreak of military operations to retake it from the so-called Islamic State militants. It warned that "thousands of civilian families are trapped in the fighting with no safe route out."

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