First U.N. global aid summit seen falling short as crises mount

by Reuters
Friday, 20 May 2016 13:28 GMT

A Syrian refugee boys fly a kite inside a refugee camp in Bekaa valley, Lebanon, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

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Boycotted by MSF and snubbed by Russia's president, can World Humanitarian Summit meet its ambitions?

* U.N. says 130 million people in need of aid

* MSF pulls out of summit, calling it a "fig-leaf"

* Russia says it's been sidelined

By Dasha Afanasieva

ISTANBUL, May 20 (Reuters) - A global summit called by the UN secretary general next week to address failings in humanitarian aid provision risks falling short of its ambitions, boycotted by a big aid agency and snubbed by Russia's president.

Government and business leaders, aid groups and donors gather in Istanbul for the two-day summit on Monday to try to develop a more coherent response to what UN chief Ban Ki-moon has called the worst global humanitarian situation since World War Two.

The United Nations estimates that more than 130 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and that less than 20 percent of the $20 billion needed to fund that is covered.

The summit - billed as the first of its kind bringing together governments, civil society and the private sector - aims to mobilise funds and get world leaders to agree on issues ranging from how to manage displaced civilians to renewing commitments to international humanitarian law.

But branding it a "fig-leaf of good intentions", Medecins sans Frontieres - involved in the planning over the past 18 months - pulled out in early May, saying it had lost hope that the meetings could address weaknesses in emergency response.

It said it could not see how the summit could help address the needs of patients and medical staff facing violence in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan, displaced civilians blocked at borders in Jordan, Turkey and Macedonia, or refugees and migrants trying to settle in Greece and Australia.

Seventy-five hospitals managed or supported by MSF were bombed around the world last year, in what the agency said were violations of the most fundamental rules of war.

Some 6,000 participants from 150 UN member states are expected to take part in the Istanbul talks, according to summit spokesman Herve Verhoosel, including 57 heads of state or government.

"In the context of this very broad and wide coalition, it is very unlikely that you could come down to very precise commitments," said Ivan Zerzhanovski, a co-ordinator at the United Nations Development Programme in Istanbul.

But he said the purpose of the summit was to "set the stage for change" and provide a framework for concrete measures.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is the only G7 leader so far publicly confirmed as planning to attend.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be there. Moscow will instead send its deputy minister for emergencies, foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday, adding Russia had serious concerns about the summit and had told U.N. member states it would not be bound by its commitments.

"Russia has on numerous occasions presented its proposals and remarks to the organizers of the summit. However they were simply ignored," she told a weekly briefing. Among other issues, Moscow was concerned about a plan to limit the veto powers of Security Council members in certain situations, Zakharova said.

MSF said the non-binding nature of commitments at the summit would in any case mean states could not be held accountable. Russia and the Syrian government, which is backed by Moscow, stand accused of widespread rights violations in Syria's war including attacks on medical facilities, which Moscow denies.

(Additional reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley and Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul, Louis Charbonneau in New York and Lidia Kelly and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Nick Tattersall)

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