UN75 special adviser: We’re lacking political will to tackle global humanitarian crises

Fabrizio Hochschild Photo: ITU/D.Woldu

The world is suffering from a “deficit in political will" - not solutions - in achieving greater cooperation and tackling the global humanitarian crises including the Covid-19 pandemic, the special adviser to the 75th UN General Assembly has warned.

In an interview with Geneva Solutions Fabrizio Hochschild, special adviser to the secretary-general on the commemoration of the UN 75th anniversary, said solutions exist for tackling climate change, inequalities, and demographic problems: “It's the deficit of political will to work together that is the main inhibitor to solutions, not the knowledge of what their solutions would be.”

As the virtual meeting of world leaders got underway last week, calls for cooperation and solidarity were quickly eclipsed by the political power struggle between economic powers, the US and China, discord over the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as calls for reforms of the UN system itself.

Tense exchanges on the handling of the Covid-19 crisis at a live Security Council session on the sidelines of the assembly showed the tall task the UN faces in reconciling differences between its 193 member states and coordinating international response efforts. As UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres said in his opening address: “We have a surplus of multilateral challenges and a deficit of multilateral solutions.”

Echoing other words from Guterres’ speech on the UN “facing [its] own 1945 moment”, Hochschild said “the recipe” to reviving multilateralism relied on nations finding “that sense of commonality”, as they did after the Second World War.  “From its origins, [the UN] has always managed differences, but with a very broad basis of an awareness of where everybody agrees.” he said.

“What was different then is that, next to all those massive differences of the late 40s and early 50s, there was a very strong sense of commonality around what is set out in the [UN] charter. And that is never again [going to] war.

Many would argue today, we've lost touch with what brings us together...and that's tremendously damaging.”

Fracturing multilateralism and impact on humanitarian action. As UN member states mull the future of multilateralism and of the organization itself, Hochschild said humanitarian action remained one part in which members still tend to have a high degree of confidence.

“Funding for UNICEF for UNHCR, for WFP, the three large humanitarian entities has been relatively stable and increased, if anything. So in that sense, the wavering support for multilateralism in the political area doesn't necessarily translate into the humanitarian area.”

However, he said that failures in many areas of multilateralism were leading to added problems for many humanitarian entities.  “The lack of humanitarian readiness to work together for example in the political area of the Security Council, to address issues like protracted conflicts has a very direct impact on the humanitarian [sector].”

“Amidst the uncertainty in terms of global power structures, a resurgence in regional frictions -  and nobody trying to keep those in check - the humanitarian fallout is much greater, to the extent that we are incapable of dealing with climate change because of global differences.

Hochschild, who has spent much of his career working in the humanitarian sector, added that while humanitarian activities have expanded since the end of the Cold War, this was “in large part due to our inability to deal with the root causes” which are often political and related to human rights.

Different, but the same: UN75 survey reveals united call for solidarity. To mark its 75th anniversary, the UN last week published the results of a global survey, which questioned over one million people about their priorities for the future and recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the most striking findings Hochschild,  whose office led the report, said was the level of unity across the world and across different generations.

“People are more united than they're divided. And that is very striking, at a time when if you just follow the media, social media or mainstream media, or if you just listen to the debates in security council General Assembly, you get the impression that what characterises our era is one of bitter divides, massive polarisation, clashes of different outlooks, paralysing difference.”

Commenting on how the survey could help the UN in addressing challenges, Hochschild said: “What we hope that by visualising just how united the world is in terms of our concerns, that we will give a big vitamin shot to that deficit, or very weak political will there, for working together.”