HUMANITARIAN DAY

For Safety and Security

It was August 19. The year was 2003. Outside the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, the capital city of Iraq, a cement truck was parked. The events that unfolded afterwards are still remembered for the amount of devastation caused and how they led to the beginning of celebrating a day simply meant for one thing – being grateful towards those who serve humanity. The cement truck packed with explosives detonated outside the offices of the top UN envoy in Iraq on that ill-fated day of August 2003 killed 22 innocent souls and wounded 100 others, the incident now famously known as the Canal Hotel Bombing. Among those who lost their lives in Baghdad that day was the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), Sergio Vieira de Mello who was the former special representative of the United Nations Secretary General and was himself a likely candidate to be the next Secretary General at that time. That day went down as the darkest day in UN history.

Sergio Vieira de Mello, a Brazilian United Nations diplomat, worked relentlessly for more than 34 years solving armed conflicts and promoting peace among various nations, in turn earning immense amount of respect and praise around the globe for his efforts in the humanitarian and political programme of UN. Awarded the United Nations Prize in the Field of Human Rights posthumously in 2003, de Mello will always be remembered for his dedication towards humanity. Five years after losing him and 21 other colleagues, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in December 2008 designating 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. Therefore, this coming 19 August marks the 10th WHD. Every year, the humanitarian community comes together and campaigns globally to commemorate WHD, advocating for the safety and security of the humanitarian aid workers and for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by tragedies and disasters. This day encourages people to learn the importance of international cooperation and raises awareness in public about the humanitarian assistance activities worldwide. The occasion honors those who have lost their lives in the cause of duty. Aid workers without any kind of discrimination help millions of people around the world who become the unfortunate victims of human conflicts or natural calamities. Whether it is the refugees from war-stricken nations like Syria or the own countrymen who have faced the wrath of a terrible hurricane like the USA, the aid workers are always there to provide much required assistance when it is most needed.

The UN staff itself leads from the front when it comes to helping the needy. The various bodies of the United Nations work tremendously hard for the welfare of the people. The World Health Organization coordinates the international response to humanitarian health emergencies. The World Food Programme (WFP) is responsible for mobilizing food and funds for transport for all large-scale refugeefeeding operations managed by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) created by the UN General Assembly for the Palestine refugees in the Near East provided emergency relief to some 7,50,000 Palestine refugees, who had lost their homes and livelihoods as a result of the 1948 Arab- Israeli conflict. Today, some 5 million Palestine refugees are eligible for UNRWA services. United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) also encourages the governments to act more effectively to protect children. The UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) managed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is one of the fastest and most effective ways to support rapid humanitarian response for people affected by natural disasters and armed conflict.

While these strong-willed and kindhearted humanitarian aid workers put their bodies on the line and risk their lives to serve the various causes, it is essential to ensure that those workers themselves get some protection and their rights are not violated. There have been incidents in the recent past when aid workers have themselves faced violence which really is demoralising for others who look for motivation from these brave souls. According to a report on the official website of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations, more than 4,000 humanitarian workers have been victims of major attacks over the past two decades. In 2016 alone, 159 major attacks were perpetrated against aid operations, affecting 268 humanitarian workers in 21 countries. Every month in 2016, on average more than six humanitarian workers were kidnapped; more than seven were killed; and more than eight were wounded. In August 2017, nine Red Cross volunteers were gunned down along with as many as two dozen other civilians attending a crisis meeting at a health facility in Gambo, Central African Republic. All these instances show that there is an immediate need to inform as many people as possible about the life-saving work of humanitarians, and the dangers they face every day. It is a day when people all around the world can engage in creating a more humane world.

Every year, World Humanitarian Day has a particular theme. While in 2010, the focus was on the actual work and achievements of humanitarian workers in the field with the theme “We are Humanitarian Workers”, in 2011, it was about inspiring the spirit of aid in everyone with “People Helping People” and last year’s theme was “#NotATarget” in which the United Nations and its partners called all global leaders to do everything in their power to protect people caught up in conflict and let the world know: Civilians are Not A Target. According to World Health Organization, “Humanitarian aid is based on a number of founding principles, including humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Humanitarian aid workers should be respected and be able to access those in need in order to provide vital assistance.” Everyone can be a humanitarian. In fact, it is often witnessed that the people affected by disasters are often the first ones to help their own community which proves the first line. In today’s world where crisis exists in major parts, the need for Humanitarian aid workers and their spirit is now more than ever. As the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres says, “No one is winning these wars. We all are losing.”