Civil society response in Lebanon: the World Humanitarian Summit as a process for accountability.

May 19, 2016

Following a call for papers on “Glocalising humanitarian interventions in Lebanon: a reflexive look into innovative practices in times of crises” published by Amel Association International and Lebanon Support, a round table was held on May 19th in Beirut, in preparation to the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul on the 23rd and 24th of May 2016. The main objective of this roundtable was to discuss innovative ideas brought up within the call for papers (papers will be published as of August 2016 on Lebanon Support’s Humanitarian Knowledge Base project), and for local organisations, alongside actors from UN agencies , international NGOs and donors, to voice their concerns and recommendations for the international summit.

Panel speakers of this event included Reem al-Haswani, Basmeh & Zeitooneh; Fran Beytrison, Oxfam; Kamel Mohanna, Amel Association International; Ziad Abdel Samad, Arab NGOs Network for Development; Georges Ghali, ALEF; and Phillipe Lazzarini, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.

A number of issues were raised by the panelists and the attendees. These included the necessity of defining equal partnerships between local and international organisations; better access to direct funding for local and national NGOs; and the importance of a localised response. Furthermore, many of the actors present acknowledged the challenges facing both national and international humanitarian actors in Lebanon, such as the lack of national strategy and policy from the Lebanese government, and the increasing bureaucratisation of funding and reporting in relation to humanitarian aid.

Moreover, the need for better documentation, data collection, and analysis within Lebanon was unanimously voiced. This comes in a context of scarcity of official statistics or census, whether relevant to vulnerability, poverty or crisis.

All panelists acknowledged the complexity of moving from a humanitarian to a development context whilst having to continue to react to different challenges within both frameworks.

In addition to the round-table, a joint letter was addressed to United Nations Secretary General, Mr Ban Ki Moon. The letter was signed by 57 Civil Society actors in Lebanon, and reiterated a number of the above mentioned issues. Within the framework of the “One Humanity; Shared Responsibility” report, the open letter incorporated core responsibilities which should be ensured and prioritised by the international community. The four key points of the letter focused on: preventing and ending the Syrian conflict through a political solution;  addressing the root causes of conflict in order to avoid and prevent recurrent crises; the importance of complementarity within a humanitarian sector that is localised and contextualised; and the need to recognise the role of volunteerism as a vector of local expertise.

With a strong and united voice, a number of local NGOs from Lebanon were present at the WHS in Istanbul. The Summit gathered approximately 8,000 representatives from “crisis-affected communities”. It resulted in over 2,000 commitments by the international community with the aim of improving the humanitarian system and ensuring accountability and effectiveness.

One key result for local and national NGOs was the commitment, in the Grand Bargain Agreement to channel 25% of aggregated aid funding to these organisations as directly as possible by 2020.

It is now a collective responsibility to ensure that these commitments are turned into action. Notably, changes should occur within United Nations agencies and member states in order to encourage a more equitable system. This would provide a better inclusion of locally rooted organisations in response planning, management and implementation, alongside an enhanced respect for International Humanitarian Law and International Human Rights Law.

As for UN agencies, the key commitments which can be highlighted and should be monitored are the following: to critically analyse the internal UN system and push for positive reform that overcomes institutional self-interest; to include local and national organisations in coordination, decision making processes and equal partnerships; and to set a clear roadmap to implement and track these commitments.  

Regarding member states, they should abide by their commitments to find political solutions for equitable and sustainable peace processes; ensure full adherence to IHL and IHRL as well as guarantee the protection of civilian populations; respect the civil and civic society space in order for NGOs to ensure an effective humanitarian response. In addition, member states should support UN reform.

Local civil society actors in Lebanon have continuously reiterated their belief in the WHS as a process rather than an end in itself, in view of seeing the commitments taken during the summit concretised in actions. This includes monitoring and holding accountable the main duty bearers, i.e. UN agencies as well as states, through concerted and continuous overseeing by local civil society and citizens.

Finally and given the consultative process around the WHS among local civil society actors in Lebanon, starting two years prior to the summit, it is important that this momentum carries on in a pledge to encourage and develop a new humanitarian (and development) system.