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World leaders meet in Istanbul to fix "broken" aid system

by Reuters
Monday, 23 May 2016 15:56 GMT

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon speaks during the opening ceremony of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

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Summit aims to develop better responses to the migrant crisis, but risks falling short of ambition

* More than 130 million people estimated in need of aid

* UN chief wants number of displaced halved by 2030

* MSF pulled out of summit, Erdogan says aid system "broken" (Adds Canadian minister, updates Merkel)

By Ayla Jean Yackley and Humeyra Pamuk

ISTANBUL, May 23 (Reuters) - Global leaders met in Istanbul on Monday to tackle a "broken" humanitarian system that has left 130 million people in need of aid, a near insurmountable task for a two-day summit that critics say risks achieving little.

Billed as the first of its kind, the United Nations summit aims to develop a better response to what has called the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two, mobilise more funds and agree to better care for displaced civilians.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on governments, businesses and aid groups to commit to halving the number of displaced civilians by 2030. "We need to improve more direct funding to local communities and fix the persistent humanitarian funding gap," he said in a speech.

"We are here to shape a different future," he told the gathering of 150 countries including 57 heads of government.

But that may be difficult to attain. The global aid agency Medecins sans Frontieres pulled out of the conference earlier this month saying it had lost hope the participants could address weaknesses in emergency response.

Critics say the global aid system has been overwhelmed by a proliferation of regional wars and failed states that have ballooned refugee numbers, and struggles with poor governance and corruption in recipient countries that consume some humanitarian funds before they can benefit those in need.

Canada pledged $274 million in funding to U.N. agencies to help victims of natural disaster and armed conflict, with a focus on protecting women and children in war zones.

"When we see hospitals being bombed, we have to say loud and clear this is unacceptable," Canada's minister of international development, Marie-Claude Bibeau, said.

President Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, which is saddled with around 3 million refugees from neighbouring Syria's civil war, again accused the West of doing little to help Syrians.

Erdogan has been among President Bashar al-Assad's fiercest critics and sees his removal as essential to ending Syria's war.

"The extent to which the international humanitarian system lies broken is alarming," he wrote in an opinion piece published in Britain's Guardian newspaper. "The international community in particular has largely ignored its responsibilities toward the Syrian people by turning a blind eye to Bashar al-Assad's crimes against his own citizens."

Turkey has run up around $10 billion in costs in taking in the majority of Syrian refugees since 2011, and the West's perceived futility in brokering a halt to Syria's multi-factional conflict has long been a sore point for Erdogan.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there needed to be improvements in how humanitarian aid is delivered.

She met with Erdogan on Monday and later said she had told him that Turkey needed a strong parliament, voicing concern over Turkey's decision to strip opposition lawmakers of immunity.

Merkel is facing accusations at home that she has become too accommodating of Erdogan, who faces accusations of creeping authoritarianism, as she tries to secure a European Union deal with Ankara to stem an influx of refugees from Turkey. (Additional reporting by Dasha Afanasieva and Meghan Rowling in Istanbul, Michelle Martin and Michael Nienaber in Berlin; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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