Humanitarian chronicles: Dakar Forum, Jean-Yves Le Drian and humanitarian aid, the future of Mali

Where is Mali going? 

It is difficult to say. However, experience teaches us that any major political and/or military breakdown has consequences for the population and consequently for humanitarian aid and its actors, who are often on the front line in the field!

Beneficiaries in Kidal, Mali ©Solidarités International

The institutional future seems very uncertain because it is difficult to see how the Transition could keep to the timetable of reforms and elections announced in just nine months. Elections will only make sense in time if the necessary reforms are carried out.

On the other hand, there is a little music that we hear from the financial institutions that support the country and its government. They doubt the effectiveness of the aid and as Josep Borrell, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, says, the time for blank cheques is over. International aid must benefit the Malian population everywhere in the country, right down to the furthest village from Bamako!

Although the future is uncertain, we can share a common conviction: whatever the events, humanitarian aid is more than ever essential for populations in danger in a general context that continues to deteriorate. And it is not forbidden to hope either.

Dakar Forum

Kick-off meeting in preparation for the 9th World Water Forum, spring 2019 ©WorldWaterForum

The 9th World Water Forum will take place in Dakar in March 2022. The stakes are high. For Senegal, it must be a breakthrough forum dedicated to concrete solutions that meet the needs of the population!  Will it really be one?

What is surprising is that if the Forum is global, it is the first to be held in sub-Saharan Africa, the continent where the lack of drinking water and sanitation is the most serious, with the most serious consequences in terms of infant mortality due to water-borne diseases, pollution, depletion of the resource, water stress and the hindrance of development. This is why it is a humanitarian emergency.

And we can no longer pretend that we are going to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals voted by 193 countries at the UN in 2015, and in particular Goal 6 on universal access to drinking water, by 2030. We know that the trajectory is not the right one and, what’s more, the Covid-19 crisis does not help matters and risks bringing development in Africa to a halt if the aid, estimated at 300 billion dollars by the IMF, is not mobilised and implemented.

Dakar is the starting point for the UN Water Conference, which will take place in March 2023 in New York. 

Fortunately, the advantage of the Dakar Forum is that the following year an inter-state conference on water will be held at the United Nations in New York in March 2023. This conference, extremely rare in the international agenda, will be the moment when real decisions should be taken. It is up to the Dakar Forum to inspire and stimulate this Conference of States so that it is equal to the global stakes involved with water and so that it finally has a permanent instrument for steering and monitoring the objectives (SDGs).

United Nations General Assembly, September 2020

Among the dangers that threaten the Dakar Forum in this role of strategic prescriber, I see a few to be avoided. Given the number of participants and themes, there is a double contradictory risk to be avoided.

The first would be to dilute the messages and analyses in an avalanche of proposals, and the second would be to be too general and not specific enough on the many issues on the agenda. For this reason, we have a central theme for this Forum, that of water security for peace and development, broken down into 4 areas: water security and sanitation, water for rural development, cooperation and tools and means.

It is therefore up to us to prioritise and concentrate a limited number of main political messages in order to address them to the Summit of Heads of State present and to the United Nations, while at the same time developing a set of specific concrete projects corresponding to the 25 working groups preparing the Forum.

And above all, in addition to the Heads of State, ministers and government agencies, local authorities, companies, international institutions and NGOs, we have the greatest need of representatives of the populations and local actors to be in the reality of concrete solutions.

We will participate in the Dakar Forum in this spirit and with these objectives with Solidarités International, the French Water Partnership and all our partners, particularly in Africa.

Jean Yves Le Drian and the humanitarian sector. 

At the 5th National Humanitarian Conference on 17 December 2020 in Paris, following lengthy preparation with the Elysée, the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs and its Crisis and Support Centre and humanitarian NGOs in France, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, made several important humanitarian commitments.

Six months later, at a meeting of the Humanitarian Coordination Group (HCG) on 25 June, the Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, informed humanitarian NGOs of the progress of his commitments. These are of interest to humanitarians beyond French territory, as some of these decisions will have implications within the European Union and the United Nations and eventually, as we hope, at international level.

According to Jean-Yves Le Drian, international solidarity is more necessary and more threatened than ever. And to use his phrase, international life is being brutalised.

Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian at the podium of the 4th CNH on 22 May 2018.

It is in this context that he confirmed that France would indeed reach its objective of 0.55% of its GNI in 2022 devoted to official development assistance, with a trajectory enshrined in the law of reaching 0.7% thereafter. Similarly, the humanitarian aid budget will reach 500 million euros next year.

Faced with the growing difficulties of bank transfers for NGOs due to anti-terrorist laws, the Minister announced easier bank access “where necessary” and mentioned a forthcoming experiment within the diplomatic network. But, according to humanitarian NGOs, the “OBC mechanism” set up in this regard was very recent and will take time. And the “provision mechanism” instituted by the Quai d’Orsay, while it demonstrates a real desire to find solutions, remains limited at this stage.

For the first time, the letter from the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, for humanitarian aid.

But what was most unexpected was the announcement of the letter sent by the Prime Minister, Jean Castex, to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Economy and Finance. This letter specifies that for France there will be: “No screening, including for the remittance of funds for humanitarian organisations as well as for state operators”.

Criteria are currently being defined to delimit the humanitarian space under consideration and they will give rise to a “doctrine”. But here again, the French Development Agency (FDA) does not want to compromise on the screening of beneficiaries and the favourable decision of the Senate in the framework of the development programming law (LOP-DSIM) has since been challenged by the National Assembly. The consequence for populations in crisis zones is that we will not be able to implement aid programmes with FDA in the framework of the humanitarian-development nexus, no less!

Another important letter is the circular from the Minister of Justice to prosecutors against the criminalisation of humanitarian aid in crisis zones and the specificity and respect of International Humanitarian Law (IHL). Thus, to fight against impunity for attacks on humanitarian aid workers, legal proceedings would be systematically opened with a view to obtaining the highest criminal qualification.

Jean-Yves Le Drian informed us that he would raise these issues at the UN Security Council on 16 July. An identical approach will be taken in view of the French presidency of the European Union from January 2022.

To conclude, at least provisionally, we can say that if there is a clear will from the Minister and the Crisis and Support Centre, nothing is really done yet. Humanitarians and Coordination Sud still need to work together to bring about these essential measures for the implementation of humanitarian aid to access populations at risk without further hindrance. We will talk about this again next month in the next edition of Humanitarian Challenges.

Alain Boinet

Will Collective Inefficiency be over in March 2023?

In March 2023, the United Nations is due to hold a “rare” conference on water. Gérard Payen urges the international community to overcome its inertia and make this summit a historic event, during which important political decisions will be taken and an annual agenda will be set to achieve Goal 6 of the 2030 SDGs.

Water settling ponds and community participation to dig trenches in Béni, DRC ©Solidarités International 2005

Governments discuss freshwater at such a large number of international events that their work is now fragmented, scattered across disparate events, with no guiding principles and very little coordination. This results in confusion for the governments themselves, as well as for most other stakeholders in the international community. UN-Water does its best to ensure technical coordination, but the political coordination of various water-related activities remains to be defined. All these events are nonetheless useful forums for developing knowledge and preparing future decisions. For example, the World Water Forums in Mexico (2006) and Istanbul (2009) paved the way for the human right to safe drinking water to be recognized in 2010, while the Marseille Forum (2012) and the Budapest Summit (2013) led to the adoption of a specific Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on water in 2015.

In March 2023, the United Nations will hold an International Water Conference. It will be jointly presided by Tajikistan and the Netherlands, and will be attended by all governments. This will be a major event since only UN summits can give rise to global political decisions that countries consider binding and that benefit from long-term operational monitoring. The many intergovernmental meetings held in parallel to UN efforts may yield useful conclusions, but in the absence of institutional follow-up mechanisms, these findings generally do not progress very far. Within the United Nations, most of the meetings devoted to water are organized by UN agencies or Secretariats for international treaties that specialize in a particular field, only covering certain water issues. An international conference on all freshwater issues (all types of water as well as sanitation) is therefore a very rare event at the UN. Water issues are multiplying and becoming increasingly interrelated with every passing year. They underpin the vast majority of SDGs, making the 2023 conference a very rare opportunity to take useful collective decisions to improve the global organization on water issues.

United Nations general assembly, September 2020

The SDGs: A Coherent Vision

In 2015, a revolution took place. The adoption of the SDGs was the first time that governments had taken all the major water issues into consideration within a global program. Prior to that, collective goals only existed for drinking water and access to toilets. In 2015, this very patchy perspective was filled out with supplementary targets for water resources management, pollution and wastewater management, water ecosystems, flooding, public participation, water in schools, adaptation to climate change, urban planning, etc. In short, a complete vision on water issues was born. Twenty SDG targets are directly related to water. That’s great news! But unfortunately, nothing much has changed since 2015 in intergovernmental circles. It is as if the silos of the past have taken over again. In 2018, at the UN High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF), governments discussed water for three hours but took no new decisions. Worse still, during their first SDG Summit in October 2019, they boasted about their progress on access to safe drinking water, in stark contrast with global statistics predicting that the 2030 target for universal access to drinking water will not be reached until the 23rd century at the pace of progress resulting from current policies. Since 2015, no intergovernmental work has been done to acknowledge and rectify the insufficient progress towards water-related SDG targets. This lack of activity on all water issues stems directly from the fact that there is no specific UN political forum for water. Unlike the majority of SDG key topics, which each have their own intergovernmental platform with regular political meetings, water is not so fortunate and, politically speaking, has been left behind. There is a dire need for collective coherence and efficiency, but this is very seldom discussed since many institutional stakeholders, countries and UN agencies see more interest in maintaining the status quo.

Water tower in Koniba, Mali ©Solidarites International 2019

A UN Political Summit on Water is Much Too Rare an Event

Some say that the 2023 UN Water Conference will be the first since the Mar-del-Plata conference in 1977. This shows very little regard for the UN Sustainable Development Commission meeting in 2005, which brought together all the world’s governments for two weeks and resulted in a nine-page UN resolution on integrated water resources management, ecosystem preservation, drinking water and sanitation, including the treatment and reuse of wastewater. However, since 2005, the only significant UN resolutions on water have been the inception of the International Year of Sanitation (2008), the recognition of the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation (2010) and the adoption of the SDGs (2015).

The 2023 UN Conference will therefore be one of the very rare events where decisions can be taken on all water issues. This will be an opportunity to make intergovernmental work on water more effective. It will be an opportunity to streamline intergovernmental work, if participants decide to organize an annual UN intergovernmental meeting on all water-related SDG targets, as is the case for the other SDG key topics. This would ensure political coherence between the many disparate existing efforts and enable the organization of efforts to achieve SDG 6 and all the global water-related goals. A decision of this kind cannot be taken in 2023 without active preparation and sufficient anticipation. This will be one of the main issues at stake during the 9th World Water Forum that will take place in Dakar in 2022.

Kick-off meeting in preparation for the 9th World Water Forum, spring 2019 ©WorldWaterForum

Will the 2023 Conference take the decision to institute regular UN political meetings on all water-related SDG targets? If so, the conference will be quite historic. But if we miss this opportunity, the international water community will only have itself to blame for remaining collectively inefficient, for the lack of political attention paid to water and for the slow progress towards water-related SDG targets.

By Gérard Payen, former Water Advisor to the United Nations Secretary General and Vice President of the French Water Partnership and Astee

Who is Gérard Payen ?

Gérard Payen has been working for more than 35 years to solve water-related problems in all countries. As Water Adviser to the Secretary General of the United Nations (member of UNSGAB) from 2004 to 2015, he contributed to the recognition of the Human Rights to drinking water and sanitation as well as to the adoption of numerous water-related global sustainable development objectives. Today, he is a director of 3 major French associations dedicated to water and continues to work to mobilise the international community for a better management of water-related problems, which requires more ambitious public policies. At the same time, since 2009, he has been advising the United Nations agencies that produce the world’s water statistics. Impressed by the number of misconceptions about the nature of water problems that hinder public authorities in their decision-making, he published a book in 2013 to dismantle these misconceptions.