DATE: TUESDAY, 28 MAY 2024 TIME: 10.00 AM






1.      It gives me great pleasure to join you here today at the International Humanitarian Conference 2024.  I would like to begin by congratulating MERCY Malaysia for hosting such a valuable gathering. In particular, I would like to commend the President of MERCY, Dato’ Dr Ahmad Faizal Perdaus, as well as all those involved in bringing us all together today.

2.      There is another reason for congratulating our hosts today.  For, in 2024, MERCY Malaysia has officially reached its 25th year of operation!  Founded in 1999 by Tan Sri Jemilah Mahmood as a small medical relief society, this incredible NGO has grown impressively over the past two decades to support a world in need, providing humanitarian aid in over 30 countries, both in crisis and non-crisis situations. 

3.      My father, Al-Marhum Sultan Azlan Shah, was the very first Patron of MERCY Malaysia.  I know how proud he would have been to see how the organization has flourished since its foundation.  As its current Patron, I, too, am immensely proud of everything that it has achieved, and everything that it stands for.  MERCY Malaysia exists – and here I quote directly from its website – “to help others regardless of race, religion, culture or boundary”.[1]  This kind of open-hearted support, without borders or prejudice, is something our world has always needed, but I believe it may need it now more than ever before.

4.      We are all here today to talk about humanitarian development for building resilience: strategies and practical action to make our global community less vulnerable to crises.  And this intervention could hardly be more timely.  The landscape of humanitarian need has changed dramatically in the quarter of a century since MERCY came into being.  It has grown in scale, scope, and, perhaps most importantly, in complexity.  In recent years, the world has been beset by crises, from wars to natural disasters and, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic.  Indeed, the statistics are overwhelming. There were an estimated 362 million people in need of humanitarian aid in 2023.[2]  To put it another way, around 1 in 27 people around the world right now are in need of urgent humanitarian support.[3]  Take a look at the number of people in this audience and consider that figure for a moment: 1 in 27 people.  It is truly a sobering thought.

5.      Conflict is the most prevalent cause of humanitarian suffering, and the devastating impacts of conflict are, sadly, on the rise, with more people currently forcibly displaced from their homes than at any other time since the beginning of the century.[4]  In 1999, when MERCY Malaysia was founded, there were around 37 million displaced people in the world; as of 2022, that figure had risen to well over 100 million, and it is only on the rise as new conflicts break out.[5]  At this moment, of course, the conflict most present in many of our hearts and minds is that which rages in Gaza.  The suffering endured by innocent civilians, the many thousands dead or wounded, including women and children, is truly shocking and unimaginable.  After 171 days of war in Gaza, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2728 in the month of Ramadan demanding an immediate ceasefire respected by all parties, leading to a lasting sustainable ceasefire.[6]  I pray for lasting peace in that part of our world, and I hope all of you here will join me in doing the same.   

6.      The situation in the Middle East demonstrates the scale of humanitarian suffering that can be wrought by conflict.  However, research also highlights the growing scope and complexity of humanitarian need today, in that most countries in crisis now have additional risk dimensions: conflict is compounded by other factors like extreme weather, famine, disease and poverty.[7]  Global warming means that extreme weather events are only increasing: 1.7 billion people were affected by extreme weather in the past decade,[8] with issues such as flooding and drought exacerbating other crises.[9] 

7.      If war is the catalyst of crisis, then these other risk dimensions are engines that allow it to gather momentum.  War destroys infrastructure, displaces communities, and leaves large numbers of people living in cramped and unsanitary conditions.  Combined with a lack of access to clean water, this gives rise to disease.   On top of that, famine and food shortages mean these displaced populations are also contending with malnourishment, making them even more susceptible to illness.  It is a vicious cycle of humanitarian crisis – one that is all too familiar around our world today.

8.      What all of this means is that humanitarian need is dramatically on the rise.  Aid requirements doubled in the five years between 2017 and 2022,[10] and funding is not keeping pace with need.  In fact, humanitarian funding had fallen at the start of 2024, compared to the previous year.[11]  There is an ever-growing funding gap between the finances needed to address crises and the resources available, which had reached a staggering $43 billion by 2023.[12]  This funding gap was the reason the United Nations Secretary-General set up the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing back in 2015, where I had the opportunity to serve as      Co-Chair.[13]  Yet, despite ‘grand bargain’ negotiations and major diplomatic efforts – which has led to more humanitarian contributions from countries in the Global South – the growing scale of global crises means the situation remains much the same today: humanitarian responses are too often held back by insufficient funds.[14] 

9.      As a result, an increasing proportion of humanitarian funding is spent simply on tackling the most immediate needs: on fighting the fires, if you will, as opposed to preventing them in the first place.  The global children’s charity, UNICEF, estimates that around 89% of humanitarian funding worldwide is now spent on responding to needs in this way, with funding for development work diminishing rapidly.[15] 

10.    And it makes sense, of course, to address the most acute consequences of crisis first.  If someone is ill with a virus, the first step is to treat their symptoms, not to encourage them to change their diet for better immunity.  But the problem is that, as global crises grow exponentially, we can barely keep up even with the symptoms.  We are bailing water out of a sinking ship with our hands, and all the while the leak is getting worse.  As of 2022, four out of five people in need of humanitarian aid were living in countries experiencing protracted crisis – that is, countries with five or more consecutive years of UN-coordinated crisis response plans.[16]  Evidently, the state we are in is unsustainable and a new approach is needed.

11.    And that is why an event such as today’s is so vitally important: because the notion of a “Humanitarian Development Nexus” represents precisely that new approach.  It argues that we must focus on longer-term interventions to build resilience and spread peace.  We must – to paraphrase the EU’s statement on the subject – strive for “positive transformation that strengthens the ability of current and future generations to meet their needs and withstand crises”.[17]  To return to the metaphor of the ship I invoked a moment ago, this is not about bailing water or even, perhaps, fixing leaks, but about reinforcing the ship with sturdier materials in the first place.

12.    There are brilliant examples of this humanitarian resilience-building work already taking place across the globe.  One need look no further than our hosts, MERCY Malaysia, to see the concept in action.  In response to the protracted conflict in Syria, which has destroyed medical and educational facilities, and devastated millions of lives, MERCY set up a programme to train young women in basic nursing and midwifery skills, to give new mothers and their babies in Syria the best possible chance at a healthy start in life.[18]  This is the kind of work that looks forward.  While it does help to address an immediate crisis – a severe shortage of care for pregnant women – it does so in a way that also builds a better future.  The nursing and midwifery skills passed on will support the country for years; the babies delivered safely will be stronger and healthier throughout their early years and into adulthood.  This initiative focuses, moreover, on equipping local communities to lead their own response efforts: part of a powerful shift towards the localization of aid, which I hope we continue to see more of in the world as whole. 

13.    Another example of the impressive resilience work undertaken by our hosts is their focus on water and sanitation.  One of their core projects is to deliver safe, clean water to communities in need around the world, through the construction of Gravity Feed Systems and piping networks.  This not only improves the day-to-day health and wellbeing of communities, but it also reduces the incidence of waterborne diseases, which can compound other crisis situations.[19]  Ready access to safe, hygienic water is nothing less than the foundation of life itself: for, as the Qur’an declares, “We created from water every living thing”.[20]  Infrastructure improvements of this kind must continue to be a key focus of resilience-building efforts the world over.

14.    Across the globe, there is lots of really innovative work happening in the area of resilience-building, with tens of thousands of NGOs now providing diverse and specialized humanitarian aid worldwide.  Many food resilience projects, for instance, involve the distribution of flood tolerant seeds, which enable farmers to cultivate crops even during flood seasons, maintaining their livelihoods as well as food supplies.[21]  One such crop is the brilliantly named “scuba rice”, which, like a scuba-diver, can survive under water for long periods of time.  In fact, it can be fully submerged under flood waters for several weeks at a time, and still recover to yield a normal harvest![22] 

15.    Such inventions result from years of scientific research.  And indeed, scientific innovation is at the heart of many of the world’s most successful resilience-building programmes.  The Covid-19 vaccines, after all, could be viewed as the epitome of resilience-building.  The virus initially spread like wild-fire, claiming millions of lives and drastically impacting millions more; but vaccines have reduced the spread, and lessened the symptoms.  Covid-19 is still circulating, but vaccination programmes make our global community more resilient to it.  This in many ways feels like the perfect metaphor for all forms of humanitarian resilience-building.  We are, if you like, trying to vaccinate our planet against crisis, to make it better able to recover.  

16.    The innovative spirit evident in vaccines and flood-resistant seeds gives me hope that humanity can still find ways to disaster-proof our world.  Humans, after all, are ingenious, inventive: we have been building our resilience to the natural challenges posed by this planet for as long as we have been living on it.  But, as I emphasized at the beginning of my speech, there is more work to do now to prepare for and build back from crises than ever before in our history.  And, what’s more, there is less funding with which to do it. 

17.    I have no doubt that there are many brilliant minds hard at work on tackling this growing gap between need and funding – lots of them, probably, in this very room!  This year’s conference streams cover an impressively wide range of topics, from health emergencies and development, to communities and mental health, to forced migration and displacement.  I am excited for the conversations that will unfold in these streams over the next three days, and I will not presume to have solutions to the problems that haven’t already occurred to you.  But, before I finish, I would like to share my thoughts on two areas which, for me, stand out as clear priorities.

18.    The first is Islamic Finance.  I have spoken in the past about the great work already being done with instruments such as Sustainable and Responsible Investment (SRI) sukuks right here in Malaysia.[23]  But I believe that we are not yet realising the full humanitarian potential of Islamic social finance.  The Islamic Finance industry as a whole is, after all, due to exceed US$3.5 trillion by the end of this year.  Yet 35% of the 2 billion people facing poverty worldwide are Muslims, despite Muslims making up 22% of the global population.[24]  Poverty is disproportionately concentrated in Muslim-majority countries, with 21% of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s population living below the poverty line.[25] 

19.    Poverty, we know, pushes people into crisis.  People live without adequate food, shelter, medical care and infrastructure, so that when other emergencies strike – whether natural or manmade – the consequences are so much worse.  Now, of course I believe that Islamic social finance should be targeted to help those in need regardless of faith.  But when these mechanisms exist – when the global Islamic finance industry as a whole is flourishing – and yet a disproportionate number of Muslims worldwide continue to suffer in poverty, it is clear that more needs to be done to leverage Islamic finance’s potential. 

20.    We know that Islamic Finance can be transformative.  Just last year, the Islamic Development Bank and the Development Investment Bank of Türkiye formalized a US$200 million financing arrangement to support businesses affected by the devastating Turkish earthquakes and facilitate long-term recovery.[26]  I believe we need more of these large-scale mobilizations of Islamic Finance, combined with technological innovations that improve the collection and targeting of funds such as zakat on an everyday basis.  Platforms like Ethis, HasanaH and the Maybank Islamic Mosque Adoption Programme are great examples of fintech solutions already in action, and I would like to see more of this going forward. 

21.    The other area I would like to emphasize is one already highlighted in the conference streams: climate change.  While conflict remains, by far, the biggest cause of humanitarian crisis around the world, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) notes that climate change is increasingly linked to conflict and human displacement.[27]  Environmental issues are a rapidly growing cause of humanitarian suffering, and we are all responsible for addressing this problem. 

22.    In Surah al-Baqarah verse 30, the Holy Qur’an tells us that we are appointed “stewards” or khalifah of the created world.  Now, whether or not this call to action speaks to your own faith, it is a powerful reminder that, of all the species with which we share our beautiful planet, we alone have the power to consciously impact its fortunes for better or worse.  And this really is an area in which all of us can make a difference.  Yes, improving climate resilience requires some large-scale scientific interventions: for instance, better early warning systems for approaching disasters.  It requires not only humanitarian diplomacy of the kind I mentioned earlier, but also high-level diplomatic efforts to reduce carbon emissions across the world.  But it is also something we can all be more conscious of in our day to day lives: taking actions to reduce our carbon footprints and remembering that, by doing so, we are contributing not only to an environmental effort, but a humanitarian one as well.

Ladies and gentlemen,

23.    If one thing is evident from my speech today, it is that there is much important work to be done.  So, I will not keep you from it a moment longer!  I wish you all a productive and inspired three days at this event, and I have no doubt that many brilliant solutions for the delivery of humanitarian development will emerge in this very room.  I hope that you will be ambitious in your thinking: that you will plan for the long-term, as well as the immediate crises.  In this 25th anniversary year for our hosts, I urge all of you to take a moment to ask yourselves, “what do we want humanitarian development to look like in another 25 years?”.

24.    Now, I thought long and hard about an inspiring quote on resilience to end with today – something to spur all of us to be persistent and hopeful in our efforts to improve humanitarian development the world over.  There is, for instance, the empowering proverb echoed by writers and speakers including Nelson Mandela (d. 2013), that our “greatest glory is … in rising every time we fall”;[28] or the beautiful observation by the disability rights champion, Helen Keller (d. 1968), that “although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it”.[29]  But in the end, I settled on some words attributed to Thomas Edison (d. 1931), inventor of the light bulb, who no doubt met with many obstacles and challenges on his own innovation journey.  I hope that these words will serve as a call to action for resilient problem-solving in the face of our humanitarian crisis: “When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this: you haven’t”.[30] 

[1] Mercy Malaysia, ‘Our History’ (accessed 10 May 2024):

[2] OCHA, Global Humanitarian Overview 2023: Mid-Year Update Snapshot as of June 2023 (Geneva: United Nations, 2023), 2.

[3] Save the Children, ‘9 Crises You Mustn’t Forget about in 2024’ (2 February 2024):

[4] Ibid.

[5] UNHCR, ‘Figures at a Glance’ (accessed 14 May 2024):

[6] United Nations Security Council, ‘Security Council Demands Immediate Ceasefire in Gaza for Month of Ramadan, Adopting Resolution 2728 (2024) with 14 Members Voting in Favour, United States Abstaining’, UNSC Meetings Coverage, meeting no. 9586 (AM), SC 15641 (25 March 2024).

[7] Development Initiatives, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2023 (Bristol: Development Initiatives, 2023), 12 and 21.

[8] World Food Programme. ‘Resilience Building’ (accessed 10 May 2024):

[9] Development Initiatives, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2023, 83.

[10] Ibid., 42.

[11] Humanitarian Action, ‘Global Humanitarian Overview 2024 Monthly Updates’ (11 March 2024):

[12] OCHA, Global Humanitarian Overview 2023: Mid-Year Update, 2.

[13] United Nations High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, Too Important to Fail: Addressing the Humanitarian Financing Gap (Geneva: United Nations, 2016).

[14] Barnaby Willitts-King and Alexandra Spencer, Reducing the Humanitarian Financing Gap: Review

of Progress since the Report of the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing (London: ODI, 2021).

[15] UNICEF, ‘The Humanitarian-Development Nexus: A New Way of Working to Deliver Long-lasting Results for Children’ (accessed 10 May 2024):

[16] Development Initiatives, Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2023, 22.

[17] European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, Resilience and Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, Factsheet (Brussels: European Commission, 2022), 1.

[18] Mercy Malaysia, ‘Current Projects’ (accessed 10 May 2024):

[19] Mercy Malaysia, ‘What If’ (accessed 10 May 2024):

[20] Surah al-Anbiya’, 21:30.

[21] Darren Vaughan, ‘What Do We Mean When We Talk About Resilience?’ Concern Worldwide (6 December 2023):

[22] United Kingdom Department for International Development, ‘Case Studies: Sowing the Seeds of Scuba Rice’ (15 October 2010):

[23] Sultan Nazrin Shah, ‘The Future is Ours,’ Keynote Address at the 5th World Conference on Islamic Thought and Civilization (WCIT), Ipoh, Malaysia (17 July 2018).

[24] Emily Rahhal, ‘Poverty Alleviation in Muslim-Majority Communities through Zakat,’ The Borgen Project (23 October 2010):

[25] Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), How Islamic Finance Can Help Achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, OECD Development Co-Operation Policy Papers, no. 30 (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2020), 8 and 12.

[26] Islamic Development Bank, ‘IsDB Group Inks $200M Deal with TKYB to Rebuild Earthquake Zones and Revive Agriculture’ (5 December 2023):

[27] UNHCR, ‘What We Do: Climate Change and Disaster Displacement’ (accessed 10 May 2024):

[28] James Bennet. ‘The Testing of a President: The Visitor, Mandela, at White House, Says World Backs Clinton,’ The New York Times (23 September 1998):

[29] Helen Keller, Optimism, 1903, part 1.

[30] ‘Quote of the Day,’ The Beaufort Gazette (Beaufort, South Carolina: 26 February 2014), p. 1, col. 5.

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