By Nkechi Okoronkwo
By most accounts, Africa currently faces some of the most complex humanitarian emergencies in the world as a result of consequences from crises caused by both natural and human-induced disasters.
The primary source of humanitarian emergencies on the continent is civil conflict but natural disasters such as flooding, climate change effects and more recently, earthquake, among others, are also taking their toll.
The combined effect of these crises has led to forced displacement of populations within and across national borders, thereby exacerbating poverty, food insecurity and famine, while impeding development.
Statistics published by the African Union (AU) indicate that 63 million people were forcibly displaced by the end of 2015 due to conflicts, of which 40.8 million were Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
Currently, the level of displacement globally and in Africa, in particular, is said to be unprecedented.
The AU further observed that since 2003, natural disasters have displaced not less than 25.4 million persons across the world every year.
It noted that in 2016, El Nino/la Nina cycles reportedly affected over 35 million people across Africa, while the projection was that by 2025, people affected by disasters would spiral from 250 million per year to over 375 million, with majority of the crises occurring in low income countries.
In appreciation of the magnitude of humanitarian challenges confronting the continent and in realisation of fact that competing needs globally have provoked dwindling humanitarian assistance, African leaders decided to forge a Common African Position (CAP) on Humanitarian Effectiveness to effectively address this challenge.
The CAP reflects African Union’s 50th Declaration in Paragraph 5, which states thus: “…Africa should continue to speak with one voice and act collectively to promote our common interests and positions in international arena…’’
It is, however, pertinent to note that former UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon convened the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, Turkey, in May 2016 to draw global attention to the alarming humanitarian crises around the world, with a view to taking urgent measures to address the situation.
The CAP, which was presented at the Istanbul summit, is part of Africa’s contribution to the efforts of the ex-UN scribe to tackle humanitarian crises. It encapsulates the resolve of African leaders to address the root causes of humanitarian crises and progressively reduce the phenomenon of forced displacement of populations across the continent.
In essence, the CAP is a consolidation of the aspirations of AU member states and their citizens on the desired reforms they want in the global humanitarian architecture so as to make it more effective and relevant for the future.
“It is our aspiration to address the long-term social and economic transformation of the continent, in line with Agenda 2063.
“However, it is our conviction that we cannot achieve such a laudable goal and sustainable development on the continent without tackling the issues of forced displacement in a meaningful way,’’ AU Chairman, President Idriss Deby of Chad, wrote in the Foreword to the CAP.
Having adopted the document at the 2016 Ordinary Session of the Executive Council and the Assembly of AU in Addis Ababa in January, the next step is implementation.
To that end, the AU Department of Political Affairs, which oversees the Humanitarian Affairs Division, recently organised the 4th Annual Humanitarian Symposium, which has “From Common African Position to Implementing a New African Humanitarian Architecture’’ as its theme, in Nairobi, Kenya.
The symposium was particularly aimed at identifying the critical elements of the proposed 10-year AU Plan of Action on Humanitarian Effectiveness in Africa and the common themes of the various AU enunciations on humanitarian action, with a view to developing a comprehensive strategy and approach for their effective implementation.
African leaders have in the past years adopted several instruments and mechanisms to deal with humanitarian crises on the continent and these include the 1969 Convention, the Kampala Convention and the 2009 Plan of Action.
Even though these milestones were aimed at strengthening Africa’s humanitarian architecture, they were limited in scope.
All the same, the 2010 Addis Ababa Declaration, which called for rapid and coordinated responses to humanitarian crises as a result of the devastating earthquake in Haiti, marked a turning point in efforts to reform Africa’s humanitarian architecture.
Globally, there have been several major policy shifts such as the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and its 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, the World Humanitarian Summit and its outcome Agenda 2063, among others.
By all means, these processes and programmes will influence future humanitarian action globally and in Africa.
On their part, African leaders have established tools which include the African Humanitarian Agency as the main vehicle for Africa’s humanitarian action and African Humanitarian Policy Framework as the engine, as well as a new funding arrangement.
These tools are designed to empower member states to implement the programmes of the new architecture.
Discussions at the symposium focused on identifying the role of the state in humanitarian action, reforming the humanitarian architecture and linking humanitarian action to sustainable development and risk reduction, among other issues.
At the end of the symposium, Amb. Lamine Yahiaoui, Ambassador of Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic of to the AU, underscored the primary role of the state in providing timely, coherent and decisive political leadership to prevent and manage crisis.
Yahiaoui, who is also the Chairman of the Permanent Representative Sub-Committee (PRC) on Refugees, Returnees and Displaced Persons at the AU, said that the proposed 10-year action plan should also reflect and strengthen the key role of the state in upholding the norms that protect civilians from humanitarian crisis.
Similarly, Mr Sunday Babatunde, the Acting Head of Office, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) to the African Union, emphasised the importance of resource mobilisation.
His words: “It is difficult to get people to commit resources to an event that has not happened; that is often a challenge in disaster response and management because people won’t move until they see the crisis.
“In Africa, resourcing disaster management entities is not as robust as we see in other parts of the world. Most of the basic trainings which experts have were provided from outside the continent.’’
Besides, Babatunde, who is also Head of UNOCHA Liaison Office with AU and Economic Commission for Africa, underscored the need to build capacities at the community level, describing people at the grassroots as first humanitarian responders in emergency situations.
“The communities and the leadership need to know that they are the first responders; when disaster happens, the first person to put out fire or rescue people from the rubble is the guy across the street, not even the official disaster responders,’’ he said.
He also underlined the need to engage the private sector as well as other non-state actors and partners who had the capacity to provide resources.
“It is commonly said that if you spend a dollar on preparedness, you will save 100 dollars when disaster hits. It is better to use that one dollar now; then we can have some guarantees, at least when crisis hits us,’’ he added.
Babatunde, nonetheless, urged the media to undertake more public enlightenment on the disaster risks confronting Africa, in addition to the roles and responsibilities of the various segments of the population.
Other participants at the symposium called for timely information and data on humanitarian challenges, prioritisation of investment in climate research, flood information as well as flood risks assessment and management.
They also said that the new humanitarian architecture, being developed, should address the root causes of the humanitarian challenges and present durable solutions.
All the same, Mr Olabisi Dare, the Head of Humanitarian Affairs, Refugees and Displaced Persons Division, Department of Political Affairs of the AU, particularly solicited greater commitment to peace and stability on the part of African leaders to address the root causes of conflicts.
He, however, identified governance deficit as the major reason for conflicts.
Citing the Somali experience as an instance, Dare said: “I think our leadership of the continent requires a greater commitment to peace in that country and in other countries with conflict situations.
“If member states at the leadership level commit themselves to peace, they can reduce conflicts and their material consequences.’’
On his part, Mr Seth Vordzorgbe, a UNDP Consultant, urged African leaders to mainstream disaster issues in their development agenda, saying that it would aid efforts to address the root causes of humanitarian crises.
Vordzorgbe, a crisis, development and agriculture management expert, said: “Governments need to be educated and informed that when they take action to reduce disaster risks, it is in their personal and political interest.’’
All in all, analysts insist that Africa cannot achieve any meaningful social-economic development without tackling the root causes of forced displacement of populations on the continent.