Multifaith Alliance Founder Dr. Georgette F. Bennett called for greater cooperation between the United Nations and NGOs during a stirring Aug. 26 keynote address at the 2015 NGO Conference at the United Nations.
Dr. Bennett noted that the United Nations has been overwhelmed with the Syrian refugee disaster and a growing global migration crisis, and hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) stand ready to pitch in.
“The question is, how can [the] UN and NGOs work together to empower vulnerable populations,” Dr. Bennett said at the conference commemorating the 70th anniversary of the UN. “We see a perfect opportunity for NGOs to work with the UN and supplement, and in many cases relieve, their [the UN's] burden."
Dr. Bennett provided several examples of how NGOs have been able to deliver humanitarian and disaster relief aid more quickly and efficiently than the overburdened UN agencies.
“It’s not the UN’s fault, but the situation is not sustainable. We need to funnel aid more directly through the NGOs which often have more contacts and better resources.”
In one specific example, she said Mercy Corps sent 688 trucks of supplies into Syria, compared to 422 sent by all UN humanitarian agencies combined. She said NGOs can also assist the UN with their expertise in refugee resettlement and streamlining the complicated legal process.
Dr. Bennett also provided a distressing update on the four-year-old Syrian crisis, which the UN calls the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Since the start of the conflict, 12.2 million Syrians have been displaced, and there are 4 million registered refugees—not including hundreds of thousands of non-registered refugees.
“The lifespan of Syrians has dropped by 24 years—from 80 to 56—just in the last four years,” she declared. “The education and healthcare systems are in collapse, and 80 percent of Syria has fallen into poverty. Women and children make up the majority of victims, and women face rape and sexual assault. This is not sustainable.”
Dr. Bennett said religion can play a role in ameliorating the conflict and pointed to the work of the Multifaith Alliance for Syrian Refugees in raising awareness and funding for Syrian war victims today, while planting the seeds of hope for a better future by sponsoring groundbreaking people-to-people diplomatic programs between Syrians and Israelis.
“The UN should nurture and encourage this, because it is a potential game changer in one of the most intractable conflict zones in the world,” she said. “The message of hope is [that] seeming enemies can rise above politics to work together to alleviate terrible suffering.”
The conference brought together world-renowned speakers including top UN officials and international ambassadors. This year’s conference focused especially on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and youth in NGOs. The overarching theme of the conference was “Honoring the Past, Recognizing the Present, and Imagining the Future.”