A video of the keynote presentation by Sir John Holmes, during the first plenary of the 2016 People in Disasters Conference. Holmes is the former United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, the current Director of Ditchley Foundation, and the chair of the Board of the International Rescue Committee in the UK. The presentation is titled, "The Politics of Humanity: Reflections on international aid in disasters".
As United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinate from 2007-2010, Sir John Holmes was heavily involved in the coordination of air provision to countries struck by natural and man-made disasters, raising the necessary funds, and the elaboration of humanitarian policy. The international humanitarian system is fragmented and struggling to cope with rising demands from both conflicts such as that in Syria, and the growing effects of climate change. Sir John will talk about what humanitarian aid can and cannot achieve, the frustrations of getting aid through when access may be difficult or denied, and the need to ensure that assistance encompasses protection of civilians and efforts to get them back on their feet, as well as the delivery of essential short term items such as food, water, medical care and shelter. He will discuss the challenges involved in trying to make the different agencies - UN United Nations, non-government organisations and the International Red Cross/Crescent movement - work together effectively. He will reveal some of the problems in dealing with donor and recipient governments who often have their own political and security agendas, and may be little interested in the necessary neutrality and independence of humanitarian aid. He will illustrate these points by practical examples of political and other dilemmas from aid provision in natural disasters such as Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2009, and the Haiti earthquake of 2010, and in conflict situations such as Darfur, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka in the past, and Syria today. He will also draw conclusions and make recommendations about how humanitarian aid might work better, and why politicians and others need to understand more clearly the impartial space required by humanitarian agencies to operate properly.