On the opening day of the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, the Special Envoy of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Forest Whitaker, called on individuals, governments and international organizations to act collectively to improve humanitarian action and invest more in development aid.

Forest Whitaker - Speaks at the World Humanitarian Summit
Forest Whitaker - Speaks at the World Humanitarian Summit

“We are facing a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented magnitude in the history of the planet,” the Academy Award-winning actor said in an interview with the UN News Centre on one of the terraces of the venue in Turkish city, which hosts the Summit through tomorrow evening.

Video: Forest Whitaker - Speaks at the World Humanitarian Summit

“One of the Summit slogans is: ‘A common humanity shared responsibilities,’ and I think that’s what we need to achieve today,” said Mr. Whitaker, who is also the founder of Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative, as well as one of the eminent personalities chosen by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to advocate on behalf of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Special Envoy urged the international community to build on the work of the Summit, convened by the Secretary-General to ensure that humanity – people’s safety, dignity and the right to thrive – are placed at the heart of global decision-making, to transform humanitarian aid to development assistance.

“I talked to many people [during the first day], and we hope that a number of proposals concerning education, conflict and poverty will tackle these problems,” said Mr. Whitaker.

“I hope that this Summit will help raise awareness that we need to solve these problems together, both at the level of NGOs [non-governmental organizations], government agencies and individuals. Together, we can find solutions to some of the problems we face on the planet,” he stressed.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Whitaker took part in the Summit’s opening ceremony, where he addressed delegations just after a former child soldier from Uganda, Victor Ochen.

“I talked with Victor Ochen. He spoke of our humanity, of being human […] and we are concerned about the fate of other human beings. I always try to remain aware that what affects others affects me too,” explained Mr. Whitaker. “This is what people are trying to achieve all over the world. They thought [the problems] were [far away] from them, but those problems arrived at their doors.”

For example, he noted the situation of refugees, emphasizing that some 60 million people are currently displaced worldwide. Experts believe they could be displaced and/or on the move for some 17 years. “These people must have a place to go. This affects us all,” he said.

Mr. Whitaker said he hopes this first-ever UN World Humanitarian Summit will help individuals to realize that they are not disconnected from the dramas faced by the world’s most vulnerable people. “These problems and sufferings also affect our lives,” he said.

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