Voices of the World Humanitarian Summit

Istanbul, Turkey, May 2016

Hagia Sophia

Last May, 2016, the United Nations convened a World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul to confirm and initiate the World Sustainable Development Goals.  For the first time faith communities and their representatives had a significant role in defining the goals and how they will be implemented.  For more than a year prior to the summit faith groups, including faith-based NGOs, church associations such as WEA, and special envoys had been submitting papers on the role of faith groups in development (See the WEA position paper HERE). A selection of the presentations and documents has been compiled and made public by the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith and Communities.




The key message was that we are living in a world in turmoil … more than ever we need cooperation with faith communities.   (Faith communities) contribute to building resilience for all communities.  In that spirit, there were many thoughtful and thought provoking statements from the speakers.  Here is a sample offered in hopes of encouraging you to visit the sites linked above…


Nihal Saad, UN Alliance on Civilizations said “Religious leaders have a key role to play in preventing violent extremism. We must speak up and not let extremists define faith.  This forum is an important step in coming together, now we must build on it.”

In recognition of the importance of local community engagement, the UN is calling for 25% of humanitarian aid to go directly to local communities, a dramatic change from current .2%.  This will have a great impact on local communities and call for stronger NGO relationships with local communities.

Alastair Ager  of Columbia University and the JLIF said “The evidence (from these documents) can be summed in three key messages:

  1. Local faith communities (LFCs) bring essential capacity o development and humanitarian action,
  2. NGOs do not do a good job of working with LFCs. Partnerships frequently fail because they are not reciprocal.
  3. Building successful partnerships requires fundamental change, not simply a different management style. It will require innovation to succeed.

islamic-reliefLucy Salek, Islamic Relief presented, saying “Faith communities have two distinct roles: caring and identity formation. Identity serves as a mobilizing function and a source of resilience during a crisis.  It also serves to counter harmful practices, such as oppression, vengeance, and exploitation.

  • Pastor Santa Johnson. Sierra Leone. “Christian and Moslem leaders provided spiritual and scriptural support for practices consistent with preventing spread of the Ebola virus. The world needs to recognize we are first responders. Faith leaders are valuable allies.  We need our capacity built. 2. We need your partnership.  3. World needs to involve us at the start so we can work as partners. “
  • Soma Gakkai, Japan. “Faith groups need to 1. Foster social cap, i.e. build community relationships, 2. Form coalition of faith groups, 3. Foster education among faith community members
  • Michael Veuthey international Institute on Humanitarian Law.  “We must explore anthropological sources of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) … religion is the source of rules and principles for humane treatment and regulation of hostilities … Faith deepens motivations to uphold IHL … Religions are safety nets when there are gaps in IHL.”

Three key recommendations:  1. Faith groups must work together. 2. We must speak up. Make our presence known.  3. We must speak together.  Find commonalities and present a unified position.

  • Azza Karam. UN Task Force on Religious Engagement.  “Faith groups make the link between development and humanitarian aid work.  This avoids an artificial split and creates a special and unique role to faith communities. … The lesson from WW2 that we cannot allow people to be marginalized and oppressed is being lost today.  There is a sense the fear of Muslims among us, we must fight the temptation to oppress and marginalize.  Religions are part of culture and civil societies.  Must recognize that link and not treatment religion as though it can be separated or that we can speak to culture without addressing faith.

When the final report on the Summit came out from the UN there was wide disappointment that the role and work of faith communities did not receive a more prominent place in the report.  Still, it was an important start, but also just a start.

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