How the world should respond to humanitarian crises

A young refugee from Burundi stands in the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania on March 26, 2016. According to UNHCR, Nyarugusu is “one of the largest and most overcrowded refugee camps in the world”, currently hosting over 140,000 refugees.

Around the world, people are being killed, injured and forced from their homes by terrifying conflicts and oppression. Going hungry because their harvests are failing, year after year. Watching as natural disasters they cannot escape tear apart their families. From Syria to South Sudan, more than 125 million people around the world have had their lives devastated by conflict or disaster – countless families are being pushed deeper into poverty every day.  

Through governments, aid agencies, and the UN, the world provides humanitarian aid to tens of millions of people. Oxfam alone reached more than 8 million men, women and children in 2014-15. Behind the headlines, neighbours, families, and thousands of local organisations are at the front line providing aid in almost every humanitarian crisis.

Many governments donate substantial amounts in aid. But the millions affected by crises need more than water, shelter and food. They often need safe refuge and an end to the violence, and a long-term way to reduce the risk of disasters they will face in the future.

A new approach to saving lives in a changing world

We live in a world in which warring parties kill civilians without consequences, and in which the human and economic costs of disasters is growing. Unless we act soon, serious natural hazards will become more frequent. Millions more people will be pushed further into a life of poverty and suffering – and international aid efforts will struggle to cope.

There is an urgent need for profound and tangible changes in the way the international community responds to violations of international law and human rights, and prevents and reduces the impact of conflicts and disasters on vulnerable people.

Governments and aid agencies must dramatically improve the way they provide aid and support local organisations, uphold the international law that is meant to protect civilians, and uphold the rights of people fleeing from conflict and disaster.

Protect civilians from the horrors of war

No matter what, war means suffering for ordinary people. A huge and growing number of them are losing their homes, their schools, their jobs, their hospitals and their lives. The failure to prevent conflict often results in a further failure to protect civilians. In today’s conflicts, the most basic rules of war are being bent or broken to gain even the slightest advantage on the battlefield. Terrible human rights abuses continue to go unchecked.

World leaders must re-commit to the international laws they’ve agreed to, such as those set out in the Geneva Convention and the Arms Trade Treaty, which can help protect civilians even in the most difficult situations. We urge governments to lead by example – abide by the laws of war and stop selling arms to those who don’t.

Stand up for people forced to flee

We are in the middle of the most serious refugee crisis since the Second World War, with tens of millions of people risking everything to flee terrifying conflict, disaster and poverty. And yet, having escaped the unthinkable, many vulnerable families are met by closed borders, hostility, discrimination, abuse and worse.

There is no single solution to the refugee crisis and no one country that can tackle it alone. Governments worldwide must develop a fair, united and co-ordinated response to help the millions of vulnerable people who are on the move. They must act quickly and responsibly to save and protect lives, and promise never to undermine international law by bargaining away fundamental human rights.

Help local people face the future on their own terms

In a world where times of crisis are set to become more frequent and more serious, many lives will be lost unless we take action now. Oxfam believes that the best chance we can give local communities to cope and recover from crises is to help them face the future on their own terms – rather than impose terms on them.

We need to create a new humanitarian model that gives responsibility and leadership of disaster and crisis response to local people.We need to work together to reinforce national and local humanitarian responses, not replace or undermine them. With the right investment, local people and communities will be able to save more lives in a crisis – and come back stronger afterwards.

You can help

We are responding to over 30 emergency situations accross the world, giving life-saving support to people caught up in natural disasters and conflicts. We also work hard to encourage global and local policy makers to bring about the changes needed to improve the lives of those affected.

Your help can make a real difference.

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