Humanitarian Highlights from the World Economic Forum

Copyright by World Economic Forum / Manuel Lopez

Last week, leaders from the private and public sectors gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the 2017 World Economic Forum. For three days, political and business leaders, socially conscious celebrities and humanitarian actors attended meetings, presentations and panel discussions covering the most pressing topics of our time.

Here is a selection of humanitarian highlights from the exclusive annual Forum.

1. Forced displacement is still a major humanitarian challenge

Stark images from the Mediterranean shores to northern Nigeria indicated that last year was one of the worst for refugees, migrants and internally displaced people. Armed conflicts, natural disasters and other crises forcibly displaced more than 65.3 million people, leaving families in desperate need of urgent humanitarian assistance. But 2016 also saw world leaders come together to solve humanitarian crises. Staggering numbers of forcibly displaced people were met with powerful responses, as so many nations opened their borders and their arms to refugees. Government and non-government actors from across the globe gathered in Istanbul, Turkey, for the first ever World Humanitarian Summit, making commitments to end suffering and leave no one behind. The World Economic Forum agenda made it clear that to meet the urgent needs of the growing number of people in need, 2017 will be a pivotal year for world leaders to make choices and adopt policies tailored to leave no one behind.

2. Technology combined with innovation will make humanitarian response more effective

When fleeing crises, people reach for their mobile devices, not only to call for help, but also to reach friends and family. The so-called connected beneficiary needs Wi-Fi access and places to charge smart phones, bringing a new set of changes to the humanitarian sector.

Reliable connectivity and stronger data collection platforms will help to locate and deliver aid to more people quickly and more efficiently. At the same time, cyber security and data privacy are ongoing global issues, including in crisis situations. Families and individuals displaced by crisis must often provide biometric data and personal details before gaining access to aid and basic supplies. The information collected is intended to help humanitarian actors deliver aid efficiently and with impartiality, which is why it is crucial to protect any acquired information from falling into the hands of those may attempt to hamper live-saving operations.

3. Cash-based assistance saves lives and risk insurance help build resilience

The World Economic Forum brought together dynamic public and private sector actors to draft the Principles on Public-Private Cooperation in Humanitarian Payments which were launched last week and are considered as one of key achievements of Davos 2017. Some of the world’s leading financial service providers and the international humanitarian community agreed on six principles to better enable digital cash payments to crisis-affected populations.

The Agenda for Humanity recommends that: “Where markets and operational contexts permit, cash-based programming should be the preferred and default method of support.”

Risk insurance also enables private sector and humanitarian expertise to join forces to help people in areas prone to natural disasters. Earthquakes, floods, droughts and storms often have devastating effects on people’s livelihoods, rendering families even more vulnerable to displacement and hunger. But risk insurance builds resilience, helping families to recover quickly when crisis hits.

“The world needs to be ready to respond to suffering and to rebuild quickly and effectively, ” said UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien at the World Economic Forum, “but it also needs to find better ways to build up resilience so that hazards do not force people into a humanitarian crisis mode. This is where the insurance industry comes in.”

4. Limiting the impact of climate change

Climate change is no longer a future threat — it is a driving force behind rapidly increasing humanitarian needs. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres addressed the World Economic Forum, calling for continued partnerships to end climate change. “The best allies of all those that want to make sure that the Paris Agreement is implemented, the best allies today in the world are probably in the business sector and it is very important to fully mobilize them,” he said.

5. Honouring artists who care

The prestigious Crystal Award honours artists whose contributions are improving the state of the world. This year’s recipients are violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter, founder of the Anne-Sophie Mutter Foundation; actor and UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, Forest Whitaker, founder of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative; and singer and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Shakira, founder of the Pies Descalzos Foundation (Barefoot Foundation).