Doctors Without Borders Ditches A Humanitarian Summit, No Longer Has 'Any Hope'

The group wants to see more of a focus on gaps in humanitarian aid.

Humanitarian responses to international crises have become so “slow and uneven” that even Doctors Without Borders is losing hope.

The aid organization, which brings emergency medical care to conflicts and natural disasters, released a statement saying that it’s pulling out from the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit. The first meeting of its kind is expecting 6,000 participants in May and will work to “prevent and reduce human suffering.”

But Doctors Without Borders feels that WHS’ agenda is focusing too heavily on broad development agendas, instead of imminent issues such as effectively addressing the refugee crisis and even simple disease outbreaks, Jason Cone, executive director, told The Huffington Post.

“We no longer have any hope that the WHS will address the weaknesses in humanitarian action and emergency response, particularly in conflict areas or epidemic situations,” the organization said in a statement.

“The summit is somewhat missing the mark in terms of very concrete deficiencies we see in the humanitarian aid system and response to emergencies,” Cone added.

Herve Verhoosel, spokesperson for WHS, told HuffPost he found the decision “disappointing,” particularly because the organization “presents a strong and influential voice” when it comes to the issues at hand.

Cone says the group has no intentions of disengaging from the issues, and will keep reflecting on the glaring gaps in aid responses across the humanitarian sector. 

WHS participants represent U.N. member states, affected communities, NGOs and leaders from finance, business, civil society and private sectors.

Despite such an overwhelming and varied attendance, Cone said the agenda isn’t slated to tackle major aid failures, which Cone rattled off with ease.

In the past year, 75 hospitals managed or supported by Doctors Without Borders were bombed, which is in direct violation of the “most fundamental rules of war,” the organization said in a statement. Even the “simple” measles outbreak in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo has seen a “slow and uneven” response. Refugees are made to wait weeks, or even months, for aid and thousands of migrants fleeing conflict may be sent back to the countries from which they fled if the deal between the European Union and Turkey passes. 

“There’s an aid system that needs reform,” Cone said. “Part of being accountable is acknowledging that reality.”

The organization is also taking issue with the fact that the summit is equating states’ responsibility with that of NGOs’ when it comes to responding to disasters.

“By putting states on the same level as nongovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies, which have no such powers or obligations, the summit will minimize the responsibility of states,” the group said.

The organization’s other gripe is that the summit is focusing extensively on the Sustainable Development Goals, a series of goals the U.N. adopted in September to address such global issues as sanitation and hunger. While Doctors Without Borders admits that these goals are crucial, it said the summit also need to make room for more imminent problems.

“While we think it’s very laudable for the summit to try and address things like …the SDGs, being very noble goals, they seem quite far removed and distanced from the real practical failures of the aid system to meet even the most basic needs of people for things like medical care, water, shelter and sanitation,” Cone said.

Though Doctors Without Borders has lost faith in the WHS, it believes that there exist viable solutions to ending the world’s mounting crises.

“We’re going to go where the problems are, so we’re going to see a lot of problems,” Cone said. “These are problems that are well within the grip of solutions. If we make choices that exacerbate the vulnerability of people, those are not gaps in medical science. Those are things that can be reversed."