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UCL IRDR Humanitarian Summit: Inequalities and injustices at the centre of discussions

This Wednesday, the Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction at UCL will host its annual Humanitarian Summit, which is aimed at engaging with the latest humanitarian debates and linking them to the department’s ongoing work. It’s a timely moment to host this event. Not least as the G7 meeting of ‘world leaders’ was hosted in Cornwall (UK) over the weekend.

G7 pledges highlight global inequalities

At the G7, the global climate emergency and health inequalities related to COVID-19 were set to be top of the action agenda. Over the course of the weekend, collective pledges were made for one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to be shared with the world’s poorest nations, and leaders recommitted to reaching the net zero greenhouse emissions target by 2050. In humanitarian affairs, the G7 group also called for urgent and unimpeded access to Ethiopia’s conflict-affected Tigray region, which is suffering from famine conditions and aid blockages by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.

Hillside farm in Tigray region, Ethiopia. Photo: A. Davey, Flickr (CC licence). This region is experiencing famine conditions and conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

These pledges, commitments and advocacy statements highlight the huge and ongoing inequalities in climate justice, access to healthcare, and humanitarian protection. But do they meet the scale of needs and injustices in these – often overlapping – crises?

Global failures

Initial reactions to these G7 commitments were scathing. Oxfam stated that these so-called world leaders have ‘completely failed to meet the challenges of our times’ through insufficient – and unjust – vaccine commitments. To continue with the example of conflict-affected Ethiopia – the country, to date, has administered nearly 2m COVID-19 vaccinations, accounting for only 0.9% of the population. At the current rate of vaccinations, it will take 6.5 years to vaccinate only an additional 10% of the population.

Oxfam also criticised the missed opportunity to make new pledges on climate finance. ActionAid pointed out that the G7's climate promises don’t even come close to what’s needed to address the urgency and scale of the crisis. The UK’s humanitarian pledges within the G7 summit also ring hollow when juxtaposed against the swingeing cuts the government has made to their aid budget in recent months.

What will it take for governments and their leaders – from the G7 and across the rest of the world – to step up and meaningfully address these global challenges?

Disrupting dominant discourses

While not intentionally set up as a G7 rejoinder, the urgent issues highlighted over the weekend will undoubtedly be picked up and tackled through the keynotes and panel discussions at UCL’s Humanitarian Summit on Wednesday. Themes underpinning the events throughout the day include:

  • Accountability to the most marginalised during crisis events (morning Keynote, Prof. Dorothea Hilhorst);

  • Addressing different – and unequal – risks faced by different groups in crisis contexts (morning panel discussion);

  • Environmental (un)sustainability and related social inequalities (afternoon keynote, Dr Sherilyn MacGregor); and

  • Feminist perspectives on the climate security debate (afternoon panel discussion).

To eagle-eyed members of our GRRIPP network, it will be clear from these topics that discussions also align with key themes which sit at the heart of the GRRIPP agenda.

This is no coincidence!

The UCL Humanitarian Summit has been organised by two members of UCL’s GRRIPP team – me and Virginie Le Masson – and features a range of GRRIPP’s global partners, advisory board members and supporters, as well as other leading commentators in the field of humanitarian and environment studies and advocacy.

If you can join us, in the morning’s discussions on risk and humanitarian action, you will get to hear from Belen Desmaison – GRRIPP’s Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation Lead for the Latin America and Caribbean region – as well as GRRIPP Advisory Board Member Mihir Bhatt. In the afternoon, Advisory Board Member Amiera Sawas will feature as a panellist, discussing the gender-climate-security nexus. Maureen Fordham, GRRIPP's Principal Investigator and Director of UCL's Centre for Gender and Disaster, will give closing comments at the end of the day. In addition to these GRRIPPers, you’ll hear considered reflections from a range of other experts in their fields.

As we move away from the ‘failed’ G7 meeting, and look towards the forthcoming COP26 (also to be hosted in the UK), it’s time for some radical and disruptive thinking, researching, and working in humanitarian crises and climate hazard settings. Register now and add your voice to the mix!

Dr Jessica Field is Communication and Dissemination Lead for GRRIPP, and a Lecturer in Humanitarian Studies at UCL’s Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction.


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