BEIRUT: Violence and refugees were the two hot topics at a humanitarian summit gathering more than 30 Lebanese NGOs Thursday.
The conference brought together representatives from serveral NGOs to outline recommendations to be made at a regional U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs summit in Amman in March and an Istanbul-based international summit in 2016.
The event took place in coordination with the World Humanitarian Summit, an initiative by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to improve humanitarian action.
The NGO representatives were divided into four groups at the Commodore Hotel in Hamra and worked on specific recommendations throughout the day, which were later presented during the closing ceremony.
“Humanitarian work needs to be separated from political interference,” was one recommendation.
This year the Lebanese Army has fought battles against Islamist militants in the northern city of Tripoli and the border town of Arsal in the northeast. The country and all its political factions have mostly stood behind the military, but some have critiqued the Army’s excessive use of force during the campaigns.
The NGO workers urged the private and public sectors to try and remain neutral, impartial and objective when dealing with humanitarian issues.
After recommendations were made, Ross Mountain, United Nations assistant emergency relief coordinator, addressed the NGOs, in particular those dealing with Lebanon’s current refugee crisis.
“The Lebanese NGO community possesses experience that is the envy of any other country,” Mountain said to a crowd that included doctors, aid workers and journalists mostly from Lebanon but also from abroad. “Perhaps they wouldn’t envy the basis on which you’ve accumulated the experience but the experience we tried to showcase speaks for itself.”
Mountain noted how the circumstances of Lebanon’s refugee crisis vary from those he has experienced in the past. “Being in Lebanon is different from being in Congo,” he said, adding that while the Congolese government often foiled attempts to provide aid, the Lebanese government has made some efforts. “I say this to highlight the juxtaposition, even on the humanitarian side,” he said.
Many of the recommendations said that Lebanon should be prepared before issues like the current refugee crisis arise.
While Mountain conceded that a preventive strategy is more effective, he said the reality of the situation is that “much more money is given to the cure than for prevention.” He also highlighted the importance of looking to the future, even when in the midst of a crisis.
“When you are up to your armpits in alligators it’s hard to look to the future and sometimes it’s not the most popular way to get out of it,” he said.
Mountain added: “It is vital that governments play their role but there is a distinct role for civil society. This is an opportunity to bring together the rich experiences and expertise that the Lebanese NGOs and civil society have and share these regionally and internationally through the WHS.”