As rich nations turn their backs
Tgenerations, HE world is witnessing the largest exodus of refugees in
spawned by armed conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. But “witnessing” is perhaps the wrong word. Many world leaders, including those who run most of the richest countries, are choosing to look the other way. They are more interested in barricading their nations from the fallout of conflict than in investing in peacekeeping and stability. This wilful neglect was on display last week at the inaugural World Humanitarian Summit, convened to face the needs of the world’s most vulnerable people. Most heads of state from the richest nations — including the United States — didn’t bother to show up, drawing a rebuke from the United Nations secretary general, Ban Kimoon. “It’s disappointing that some world leaders could not be here, especially from the G-7 countries,” he said at a news conference on Tuesday. “We have reached a level of human suffering without parallel since the founding of the United Nations” 70 years ago.
Even if some of the wars can be brought to an end, it will take decades and billions of dollars to meaningfully address their ramifications. The challenge of doing so will be compounded by the expanding needs of people displaced by climate change and natural disasters. “Today, we do not yet have a functioning humanitarian aid system,” Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, the only head of state of a member of the Group of 7 nations to attend, said at the conference, which was held in Istanbul. “Very often pledges are made, but the money does not reach where it is most needed.” The international community spends roughly $25 billion a year on humanitarian aid, which seems a lot but in fact is $15 billion less than relief agencies need to do the job properly.
Among the agencies most in need of repair and rejuvenation is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which administers the refugee resettlement process and has been under-financed for years. This has forced millions of refugees to put their fates in the hands of unscrupulous smugglers and set out on perilous journeys in search of a new start. According to the agency, there are more than 59.5 million forcibly displaced people, including roughly 19.5 million refugees. Medical professionals continue to perform heroic work in war zones, even as they have come under attack routinely, sometimes deliberately. Doctors Without Borders, which runs battlefield hospitals, boycotted the summit meeting, calling it a “figleaf of good intentions.” Humanitarian aid, including food and basic medicine, often reaches besieged communities too late, if at all. That means that people are dying daily from malnutrition and a lack of basic health care.
Even in parts of the world that are comparatively stable, there is widespread disregard for the institutions that investigate human rights abuses. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which investigates abuses in Latin America, announced last week that it would soon have to lay off half of its staff as a result of chronic budget shortages. The meeting’s organizers issued a series of objectives on Tuesday at the end of the two-day event. They called on leaders to do more to prevent war, uphold human rights norms and distribute the burden of resettling refugees more equitably. These are all sensible aspirations, but unless world leaders make binding commitments to carry them out they’re unlikely to be met. It may be politically expedient to propose fortifying barriers and tightening immigration controls in an effort to keep the tide of suffering and despair at bay. But doing so will only raise the longterm cost of dealing with crises that are metastasising each year. — The New York Times
If one is too lazy to think, too vain to do a thing badly, too cowardly to admit it, one will never attain wisdom.