UN Humanitarian Summit, Istanbul, Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović.jpg
Photograph: EPA/TOLGA BOZOGLU

The first World Humanitarian Summit opened Monday in Istanbul as the United Nations and key donors acknowledged that the current system for distributing humanitarian aid and responding to global crises is not working the way it should.

Some 125 million people, a "record number," are in need of aid around the world as we face the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said as he opened the two-day summit.

"Today we do not yet have a functioning humanitarian aid system," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said.  

Admitting that the international system for delivering aid is bloated, UN agencies and major donor countries agreed to a plan to cut 1 billion dollars in inefficiencies on an annual basis, freeing up more cash for people in need. 

Despite the pledges for reform, the event faced heavy criticism, with some aid groups accusing governments of blocking aid to people under siege and attacking schools and hospitals. Some groups charged that the summit would do little to hold those governments accountable. 

UN agencies and their partners need roughly 20 billion dollars this year, but only 18 per cent of that sum has been received so far.

"Very often pledges are made but the money does not reach where it is most needed," Merkel said. Some donors have admitted there are not enough funds to go around. 

Doctors Without Border (MSF) pulled out of the summit, saying it failed to address the most acute humanitarian crises, which cannot be fixed through aid alone.

The aid group wants states to do more to end conflicts, protect civilians, deliver assistance and respect international law. Last year, 75 hospitals managed by or supported by MSF were bombed, often by governments.

"In Syria and elsewhere, hospital and medical centres are being bombed, people are losing their lives," Merkel said. The German chancellor was the highest ranking official from major donor countries to attend the summit.

Russia and the United States are among key countries - both in terms of donations and influence - which have not sent high-level officials.

Some 60 million people are refugees or displaced, and that number is growing as national and international conflicts remain unresolved. 

As a result, tens of millions of children are unable to access education because of war. War Child, a charity, says only 1.4 per cent of humanitarian aid is spent on educating children who are trapped by conflicts.

As the crises mount, the size of UN and government agencies has grown to accommodate those in need, but officials admit this is not always in proportion.

"We need to shrink these bureaucracies down to size," said Kristalina Georgieva, the European Commissioner for budget.

Turkey, the host country, has more than 2 million Syrian refugees, with no sign of the civil war ending, letting them go home.

Despite often being touted as an example of generosity towards refugees, the country has come under fire from human rights groups, who contradict government claims that it has an open border policy and warn of growing authoritarianism.

Europe too is coming under criticism for its refugee policy, including a recent deal with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants and cut routes to the bloc.

"I don't think what the EU has come up with so far is a good solution. It is not sustainable," Salil Shetty, the head of Amnesty International, told dpa.

"The refugee crisis is not a one-off crisis. They are only dealing with the consequences not the causing factors," he said. 

Security is tight in Istanbul, which has been hit by terrorist attacks this year.

Latest news

Migrant group: Britain hits 'new low' by deporting grandmother

Britain has hit a "new low" by deporting a grandmother from north-eastern England to Singapore, a migrants' rights group said on Monday.

Turkish prosecutors seek arrest warrant for detained German reporter

Turkish prosecutors are seeking an arrest warrant for German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel, who was taken into police custody 13 days ago.

1.4 million people without water after deadly floods in Chile

More than 1.4 million people were without drinking water in the Chilean capital of Santiago on Monday following catastrophic flooding that left at least three people dead.

Serbia PM says no snap parliamentary election

Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday that an early parliamentary election would not be held simultaneously with a presidential vote, although the state leadership had announced such a possibility.  

Trump touts 'security budget' with 10-per-cent defence spending hike

US President Donald Trump said he will present a "public security and national security budget," which will hike defence spending by 54 billion dollars or about 10 per cent.

National Front founder Jean-Marie Le Pen fined for Roma comments

The founder of France's far-right National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, had a 5,000-euro (5,300-dollar) fine for inciting racial hatred and discrimination confirmed on appeal on Monday.

Croatia-Montenegro relations example for region, says minister

After meeting Croatian Ambassador Veselko Grubisic in Podgorica on Monday, Montenegrin Defence Minister Predrag Boskovic said that relations between Croatia and Montenegro were very good and could serve as an example to other countries in the region.

Over 31,000 South Sudanese flee fighting and hunger to Sudan

Fleeing escalating fighting and famine in South Sudan, over 31,000 people have arrived in neighbouring Sudan so far this year, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said Monday.

SDP urges gov't to pull statement making radical turn in human rights

The opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP) on Monday called on the government to take a position on the Croatian foreign policy's turn in human rights, which it said was initiated by Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier, and to withdraw a Foreign Ministry statement on that sent to Brussels.

Police says photoshopped photo of Milanka Opacic motivated by hate

An investigation has proved that a photograph showing Parliament Deputy Speaker Milanka Opacic wearing a shirt with four Cyrillic letters "S" (standing for "only unity saves the Serb", a popular motto and slogan in Serbia and among Serb nationalists) is a photomontage and the police suspect that publishing and distributing the said photo has been motivated by hate and intolerance.

Finance Ministry says didn't analyse HEP's readiness for IPO

The Ministry of Finance on Monday announced that it had not analysed the justification or the readiness of power provider Hrvatska Elektroprivreda (HEP) for an initial public offering with regard to a possible acquisition of Hungarian energy company MOL's stake in Croatia's INA.

Berlin confirms murder of German hostage in the Philippines

Berlin confirmed on Monday the murder of a German hostage by the militant Islamist group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines with Chancellor Angela Merkel condemning the killing as "barbaric" and "abominable".

Syrian refugees arrive in Italy with help from Christian groups

A group of 50 Syrian refugees, more than half of them children, landed in Italy early Monday, entering the country on humanitarian visas obtained with the help of a lay Catholic NGO, Protestant organizations and the Italian government.

Macedonian opposition claims right to assume government

Macedonia's opposition Social Democratic (SDSM) leader Zoran Zaev on Monday said that he expects to take over as prime minister because he has managed to build a majority in parliament.

EU tightens sanctions on North Korea in response to nuclear test

The European Union tightened sanctions against North Korea on Monday adding import bans and other restrictions to already tough measures in place against the reclusive regime.

Car bombing injures five soldiers in Somali capital

Five Somali soldiers were injured Monday when a car they were chasing blew up in the capital Mogadishu, security officials and witnesses said.

Israeli military confirms strikes on several Hamas outposts in Gaza

The Israeli military confirmed on Monday that it had sent fighter jets to strike several posts belonging to the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip in response to an earlier rocket attack.

Croatian FM rejects claims gov't will change abortion law, advocates dignity of LGBT persons

Croatian Foreign Minister Davor Ivo Stier said on Monday he absolutely rejected allegations that the government would change the abortion law, and added that he advocated the dignity of LGBT persons.