Next year’s World Humanitarian Summit is supposed to help reshape the multi-billion-dollar emergency response sector to reflect important changes such as the growing involvement of organisations outside the United Nations.
Today, after a week of speculation, Antoine Gerard, a longstanding staff member of the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination body, OCHA, was named as the new head of the summit’s secretariat.
The announcement, made by OCHA head Stephen O’Brien, follows the surprise resignation of Jemilah Mahmood in August.
Gerard, who is French, enjoys respect among his colleagues for his field experience, technical ability and straight talking. But he hardly fits the profile of a prominent non-Western woman that the secretariat was widely thought to be seeking as its new head.
His appointment will also do little to erode the perception that OCHA is increasingly dominating the summit. Today, NGOs told a preliminary meeting in Geneva that they felt their work was under-reflected in a synthesis of pre-summit regional consultations with 23,000 people across the world.
A separate report, bearing the name of the UN secretary-general and containing his recommendations for the summit, to be held in Istanbul in seven months time, is currently being drafted by OCHA.
Reaction among those currently gathered in Geneva for a global consultation on the summit was muted. Some expressed concern that Gerard lacks Mahmood’s charisma and ability to reach across the differing constituencies that make up the WHS process.
“He’s got the field experience, he’s got the technical experience and he’s extremely principled,” said one senior UN representative. “The issue is: does he have the convening ability? And what exactly he is expected to do? It is very unclear what happens between this meeting and May 2016.”
Gerard began working for OCHA in Burundi in 2002 before taking senior posts in Zimbabwe, Sudan, and in the West Africa regional office.
He previously worked for many years with Médecins Sans Frontières.
Imogen Wall has consulted for various agencies, including OCHA and WHS. She is now IRIN’s aid policy editor.