The role of humanitarianism in globally tumultuous times was among the topics discussed by David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, at the International House Sunday Supper on January 25th.
Miliband, former British Foreign Secretary who has led the IRC since 2013, engaged in a lively conversation with Warren Hoge, longtime editor and foreign correspondent at The New York Times and currently a VP at the International Peace Institute.
David MilibandHoge began the conversation by reviewing events of 2014 — “an annus horribilis” — that highlighted political destabilization around the world and exacerbated the international refugee crisis.
Miliband noted that despite diminishing global inequality and the fact that the number of countries with democratically-elected governments is at an all-time high, the number of displaced persons worldwide stands at 52 million.
Miliband’s diagnosis focused on the interaction of governments unable to meet basic needs or contain ethnic and religious difference, and an international system that is weak and divided.
Observing that humanitarianism has come to the fore as conflicts have erupted, Hoge asked Miliband what challenges that has presented to IRC, whose mission is to help people “whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster.”
“What we face now, no international system was designed to address,” said Miliband. “Boko Haram and the Islamic State are not bound by international conventions.”
Miliband said humanitarianism is more of a sector than a system with an organizational precept, and doesn’t have the scale to accommodate the current refugee crisis.
Syria is the defining humanitarian crisis of our time, with half the country seeking help from outside and more than three million refugees in neighboring countries.
“Millions of refugees in each country have their own struggles,” concluded Miliband. “What we need is the equivalent of the Marshall Plan.”
Asked by Hoge how new technology has affected humanitarianism, Miliband said it had not transformed the humanitarian sector yet and could be significant, “but we need low-tech as well,” he said.
Following the conversation, Miliband took questions four at a time from queuing I-House residents, whom he addressed by name, and who queried him on topics ranging from targeted health care facilities in conflict countries to domestic politics in the UK.
“Very good, very difficult questions,” Miliband observed between exchanges.
The Sunday Supper attracted a large crowd of residents and guests in Davis Hall. President Calvin Sims welcomed participants and brought to the stage Board Chairman Frank G. Wisner, who introduced Hoge and Miliband.