A billion pledges of action on World Humanitarian Day

Beyoncé Knowles sings onstage for the video, "I Was Here," which debuted on World Humanitarian Day on August 19. Beyoncé is one of the celebrities tapped by the United Nations to highlight the sacrifices of humanitarian workers around the world. Photo by: Cliff Watts / UN

Ragaei Abdelfattah. Jamal Al Fadil Farag Allah. Hussein Saleh. They are just three of the numberous fallen aid workers remembered on World Humanitarian Day, Aug. 19.

This year’s commemoration of World Humanitarian Day was among the most high-profile yet, with the United Nations tapping celebrities like U.S. singer Beyonce to highlight the sacrifices of those who lost their lives providing humanitarian aid and those who continue to do so under the most difficult circumstances. The United Nations also used the day to draw attention to growing humanitarian needs in Syria and Somalia, among other countries.

At least one billion people responded to the U.N. flagship social media campaign for the day dubbed “I Was Here” – a name adopted from the song written by Beyonce to help mark the event. The campaign encouraged people to pledge humanitarian actions and share these through the interactive website, www.whd-iwashere.org.

The message of people helping people is universal,” said Valerie Amos, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs. “Making your mark and saying ‘I Was Here’ resonates powerfully with people all over the world.”

Various members of the international humanitarian community joined in commemorating the event on Sunday. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Anne Richard, for instance, asked in an entry on DipNote “Who are today’s humanitarians?” while UNICEFhighlighted the need to allow aid workers safe and unimpeded access to women and children in need. Lourdes Ibarra, a U.N. aid worker, shared her story and thoughts on the job with the Huffington Post.

The Guardian’s Mark Tran, meanwhile, took a different approach and issued a challenge to all humanitarians: Find ways to communicate better with aid recipients. Aid workers and the organizations they work for have got better at taking into account the voice of the people they are helping, Tran says. But measures used by aid groups to get feedback from their recipients and fully integrate these in their work could still be improved, he argues.

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About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.