As a boy I grew up in war. I was six years old when I was forced to flee my home and village in Korea with only what I could carry in my arms. The schools destroyed, my home abandoned, I was filled with fear and uncertainty. I could not have known that my darkest hour would so profoundly shape my destiny. With shelter, schoolbooks and relief items, a young United Nations offered hope and protection and inspired me to pursue a career in public service. Seven decades after the founding of the United Nations, I believe its blue flag still remains a banner of hope for all humanity.
Throughout my tenure as Secretary-General, I have been inspired by what the international community can achieve when it acts together. We have agreed on an ambitious sustainable development agenda to end global poverty. We have adopted a universal climate change agreement and a new framework to reduce disaster risk and enhance resilience. We are initiating reforms together in our peace and security sector. But more progress for more people is urgently needed.
As I enter my final year, despite the progress made in agreeing new frameworks and norms, I remain deeply concerned about the state of our humanity. In too many places, peace, stability and sustainable economic growth remain elusive. Brutal and seemingly intractable conflicts have devastated the lives of millions of people, threatening the futures of entire generations. More countries are slipping into fragility, marked by extreme poverty and weak institutions, compounded by natural hazards and climate-induced disasters. Violent extremism, terrorism and transnational crime create persistent instability. Growing economic inequality within countries and the widening gap between rich and poor is further marginalizing the most vulnerable in society. Climate change continues to cause increased humanitarian stress as it exacerbates food insecurity, water scarcity, conflict, migration and other trends. Disasters are becoming more frequent and intense. Pandemics, epidemics and other global health threats continue to emerge at worrying levels and frequency. As millions of people leave their homes in search of safety or opportunity, the capacity and willingness of countries to absorb them is seriously challenged. Although towns and cities provide new opportunities, rapid unplanned urbanization combined with natural hazards, pandemics and aerial bombardments are placing even more people at risk.
These challenges are testing the resilience of communities and national institutions and stretching the ability of regional and international organizations to support them. Peacekeepers, peacemakers and humanitarian workers are deployed for longer periods and at ever-higher cost, even as violent extremism and targeted attacks severely hamper their ability to provide lifesaving assistance. At the same time, the international aid system has not kept pace with the aforementioned challenges, the diverse range of organizations now engaged, or with the demand for a more unified approach that draws upon the capacities and resources of all stakeholders to reach those in need.
These external and internal challenges call out for a process of fundamental change to reaffirm our commitment to humanity. That is why I called for a World Humanitarian Summit. I believe this first Summit of its kind in Istanbul in May 2016 must be a moment for “we the peoples”—Heads of State and Government, representatives of affected communities, national and international aid organizations, global opinion leaders, private sector leaders and others— to agree that we can and must do better to end conflict, alleviate suffering, and reduce risk and vulnerability.
In 1941, amid brutal conflict and suffering, leaders came together at St James’s Palace in London. They recognized the need for a fundamental change in the way they collectively managed threats to international peace and security. Diplomacy would take over from war as the primary instrument of managing international relations. Leaders committed themselves to international cooperation, peaceful solutions and a plan to end the scourge of war. While the challenges of today may differ, I believe we are approaching a similar point in history. We must remember the promises we made and respect the rules that we have agreed to. We need to restore trust in our global order and show those millions left behind in conflicts, in chronic need and in constant fear, the solidarity they deserve and expect from us.
Seventy-five years after St James’s Palace, the World Humanitarian Summit presents an opportunity to affirm and renew our commitment to humanity and to the unity and cooperation needed to confront the challenges of our time effectively. I ask global leaders to come to the World Humanitarian Summit prepared to assume their responsibilities for a new era in international relations; one in which safeguarding humanity and promoting human progress drives our decision-making and collective actions.