Women carry sacks of white maize back home after a food distribution in Ngop, Unity state, South Sudan. The Norwegian Refugee Council distributed food for more than 7,100 people in Ngop in 2017. Photo: Albert Gonzalez Farran/NRC

Make leadership great again

Jan Egeland|Published 24. Jan 2018|Updated 19. Oct 2018
Boldness is key to humanitarian relief.

This article was first published by The Economist’s flagship publication The World in 2018. Read it here.

The world has the largest number of displaced people since the aftermath of the second world war. The international-aid system is on the brink of collapse under the weight of a record 141m people in need of humanitarian assistance. Without policy shifts, things will get worse in 2018.

Wars in Syria, South Sudan and Afghanistan will produce many of the refugees. Poorer nations will struggle to shoulder the burden of sheltering those fleeing war. Rich countries will keep their borders shut. Refugees will languish in limbo.

And governments will use brutal force against civilians, with no repercussions. While negotiating taking aid into Syria over the past three years, the government flatly refused my request to allow medicine onto relief trucks. Besieged communities received barrel-bombs instead. Similarly in Sudan, President Omar al-Bashir has bombed the people of the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile for the past six years. In Myanmar, the world simply looked on as the authorities were accused of atrocities against the Rohingya minority. 

Brutality and immunity will go hand-in-hand in 2018, if politicians choose inaction. Only bold leadership can reverse these trends. It needs to provide three things: accountability, openness and money. 

Leaders should begin by demanding justice when others commit atrocities. Instead of standing idly by as governments slaughter their own people, they should hold perpetrators to account. International humanitarian law must be respected. Expect attacks on hospitals, schools and aid workers in 2018 if this law is ignored.

Rich countries should keep their borders open to people escaping the horrors of war. Nationalist rhetoric must not keep anti-immigrant fears ignited in the year ahead. Instead of building walls, we should invest in the future of young refugees.

Never before have we had better tools and knowledge to help the world’s most vulnerable people. Aid agencies asked for $23bn for humanitarian assistance in 2017, but got far less. The money needed was equivalent to less than half the estimated size of the global ice-cream market in 2017.

Relief organisations have been plastering wounds on protracted crises for years. But without effective diplomacy, these will continue to bleed. In 2018 there is an opportunity for fresh leadership to make a difference. Vacancies are open for leaders who can make our world great again.

Relief organisations have been plastering wounds on protracted crises for years. But without effective diplomacy, these will continue to bleed.
Jan Egeland