As the famine in the Horn of Africa spreads and the number of those who urgently need help increases, humanitarian workers continue to work hard on the ground to save lives. The dedication and invaluable contribution of aid workers in helping others, even if it often means risking their own lives, takes center stage on Aug. 19, World Humanitarian Day.
“Their efforts save lives in conflict and natural disaster. They also draw the world closer together by reminding us that we are one family, sharing the same dreams for a peaceful planet, where all people can live in safety, and with dignity.” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says in his message to mark what EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva dubbed “a day for thanking the helpers.”
With the theme “People Helping People,” World Humanitarian Day 2011 highlights the different aspects of humanitarian work. Aside from responding to emergencies, humanitarian workers “support communities to rebuild their lives after disasters, to become more resilient to future crises, to help their voices to be heard, and to build lasting and sustainable peace in areas of conflict,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.
The U.N. also calls attention to the issue of aid worker security, which remains one of the greatest problems being faced by the humanitarian community.
Attacks on humanitarian posts have tripled in the past decade, according to the U.N., resulting to about 100 attacks per year. Over the past 10 years, 780 aid workers were killed throughout the world. They were assassinated, killed in ambush or by explosives. Hundreds more were abducted or aggressed. In 2010, 69 aid workers were killed, 86 were injured and 87 were kidnapped. AusAid cites that since 1997, more than 700 aid workers have been killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in their line of work in East Africa alone.
“[Humanitarian workers] place themselves at greatest risk than the UN peacekeepers — they carry no guns but face as much danger,” Georgieva said in a statement.
The commemoration of World Humanitarian Day itself traces back to a tragic event. On Aug. 19, 2003, a brutal terrorist attack on the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, killed 22 people, including the special representative of the U.N. secretary-general to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
“We pledge to do all we can to ensure the world’s humanitarians are kept safe to do their essential work.” Ban says.
The EU — the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid — estimates there are more than half a million aid workers in the world today, both relief and development personnel. An estimated 595,000 are humanitarian workers, including international and national employees of U.N. humanitarian agencies, international non-governmental organizations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent family.
The U.N. also urges donors, the private sector and individuals to match the commitment of humanitarian workers. The world body has launched a $2 billion international emergency appeal to help save the millions of men, women and children affected by the crisis in East Africa, even as it draws attention to previous humanitarian crises, such as the one still ongoing in Ivory Coast, where hundreds of thousands have been displaced and for which humanitarian appeals are largely under funded.
“World Humanitarian Day marks a time of remembrance and regret — and of resolve to continue to help those most in need despite the dangers,” Georgieva said.
More tributes to humanitarian aid workers:
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