Dispatches From the World Humanitarian Summit: Education as a Bridge Between Aid and Development

The World Post / Huffington Post, May 24, 2016

By Forest Whitaker

In my first post from the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, I discussed how the international community must not be satisfied simply providing humanitarian aid during conflicts, but instead must seek to eliminate the need for aid to begin with. In the Secretary-General’s words, “We cannot use a band-aid as a cure.” A major goal of the Summit is to identify more-sustainable solutions to the staggering humanitarian crises we face around the world.

Now, a day into the conference, having heard from some of the leading minds in the spheres of aid and global development, one of the topics at the forefront of many of the conversations taking place in Istanbul is education.

I met yesterday with several of my fellow members of the Secretary-General’s Advocacy Group for the Sustainable Development Goals, a group of leaders and humanitarians who work together to raise awareness for the 17 global goals adopted by the international community last September. In our discussion with each other and during our briefing with the press, it became clear that education—whether in the context of promoting gender equality, economic growth, or peacebuilding—was the common thread that connected all our work.

It’s very discouraging, then, to see schools and universities becoming part of the battlefield in regions touched by violence. As I discussed with UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova in an op-ed yesterday, more than 70 countries experienced attacks on schools or universities between 2009 and 2013. But in spite of these significant education crises that occur in almost every conflict situation—from Syria to South Sudan and beyond—education accounts for only 2 percent of all humanitarian aid worldwide, and it is also the aid category with the smallest share of appeals actually funded.

Later today, UNESCO will host an event at the Summit that will bring attention to this need to provide more funding for education aid. The event will also rally support around the Safe Schools Declaration—an international commitment signed so far by over 50 countries to protect students, teachers, and schools during periods of armed conflict.

These are incredibly important topics to discuss, because not only is this lack of education aid during conflict an enormous short-term humanitarian failure, but it is also a missed opportunity to develop for the future. When schools are not safe, students drop out at drastically higher rates. And when children and youth in vulnerable communities are not in school, those communities are more likely to be affected by further cycles of poverty and violence.

Investing in education and protecting our schools are the most-effective forms of peacekeeping that exist. When we work with communities to ensure that children go to school and stay in school, we are preventing violence and conflicts before they begin. It is far easier—and cheaper—to build schools than it is to stop wars.

Check back tomorrow on The Huffington Post for my final update from the World Humanitarian Summit.

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