Investing where it counts – an ECOSOC HAS side event

On 28 June, at a session at the United Nations in New York, the focus was on putting young people at the centre of humanitarian action and prioritising education in emergencies (EiE) to accelerate sustainable development. Children and young people consistently prioritise education in emergencies, and this has never been more critical to safeguarding and investing in the future of children and youth.

The Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies (EiE Hub), together with UNICEF, UNFPA and the Compact for Young People in Humanitarian Action, co-hosted a joint side event on EiE, youth and financing during the 2024 ECOSOC Humanitarian Affairs Segment (HAS).

The panel discussion explored the vital intersection of youth engagement, youth-led organisations, and EiE. It emphasised their pivotal roles in communities affected by humanitarian crises, and in safeguarding the wellbeing and prospects of children and youth. Young people’s education plays a crucial role in providing stability, hope, and future opportunities.

“Meaningful inclusion means not only listening to the stories of refugee youth but also involving them in humanitarian response, in ways that will benefit their communities, their families and themselves – from the beginning, during and after crisis,” said Laura Valencia, Global Refugee Youth Network (GRYN). “[The needs of youth] have been overlooked because the inclusion of the voices that really matter, those of the people that are really affected are not taken into consideration.” 

As humanitarian crises grow in number and complexity, it is crucial that the humanitarian system better addresses young people’s specific needs and engages children and young people meaningfully in humanitarian action.

“We are the primary stakeholders in many sectors of humanitarian response, especially education in emergencies, and yet our voices are not prioritised,” said Mai Sami Ahmed, Youth Representative and Youth Advocacy Officer, Save the Children. “We don’t need more tokenistic representation, we need to be involved in decision-making.”

“The reality is that young people are working in, and leading, humanitarian response activities all over the world,” said Shoko Arakaki, Director of the Humanitarian Response Division, UNFPA. “They are often among the first responders in a crisis, they are often deeply embedded in their communities, have strong social networks, and are able to take leadership roles as a result.”

“Again and again, we have to explain to States and to the humanitarian community that education is life-saving,” said Lucia Elmi, Global Director Office of Emergency Programs, UNICEF. “For a child who has lost everything, or is separated from family, you can give them food, water and shelter, but they will not recover without programmes to support their wellbeing.”

Raakhi Williams, Chief, Strategy and Planning, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), presented seven key insights from the EiE Hub’s new paper on EiE financing, ‘Unlocking Futures: A Global Overview of Education in Emergencies Financing’. Looking forward to this year’s Summit of the Future and the United Nations General Assembly, in the race to deliver on promises outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it is essential to critically assess the challenges and opportunities to finding sufficient funding for education in emergencies.

“When you compare needs against financing, you see that the least amount of money is going to the places in greatest need,” said Williams. “So that doesn’t make sense. As we point out often, 224 million children and adolescents in crisis are in need of education support. 72 million are out of school completely. As long as these numbers exist, we are failing those children and we are failing SDG4.”

The paper confirms that the education needs of crisis-affected and displaced children continue to rise, due to the impact of such conflicts as Gaza, Ukraine, Sudan, Myanmar and elsewhere, alongside the toll taken by increasingly frequent climate-related disasters. As a result, EiE remains chronically underfunded, and the need to mobilise greater financial resources is more urgent than ever.

Humanitarian funding alone will not be sufficient to close the funding gap, so coordination between humanitarian and development funding for education should be further strengthened in crisis-affected countries. An appropriate proportion of climate finance should also be provided to the education sector, and EiE partners should be given further capacity-building opportunities so they can access the relevant funding mechanisms.

Valencia and Ahmed ended the session with a call to action by young people for States heading towards the  Summit for the Future in September 2024. They urged that States ensure meaningful participation of children and youth in decision-making, trusting their capabilities and fostering partnerships, and advocated for including youth in programme planning and design. They stressed the importance of investing in education in emergencies and sustaining youth engagement in humanitarian efforts through the recognition of child and youth leadership, and ensuring adequate resources to do so.

Ambassador Cecilia A.M Adeng, Permanent Representative of South Sudan to the United Nations, said in closing: “In times of crisis, maintaining access to quality education is crucial for protection and development… Education provides stability, normalcy, and hope – it mitigates the long-term impacts of trauma and displacement”.  She echoed that “Investing in education during emergencies has a profound ripple effect, accelerating progress towards sustainable development goals. And the most important and fundamental aspect of all of this is funding.”

To read the full paper on EiE financing, click here.