19 August marks a global celebration of people helping people
Every day humanitarian workers support millions of people affected by natural disasters and conflicts, and help communities to better prepare for future shocks.
One day – 19 August – is a global celebration of humanitarians, of people helping people. World Humanitarian Day honors humanitarian workers who have lost their lives, and those that continue to risk it every day to provide aid to people in need regardless of who they are or where they are.
August 19 marks the day in 2003 when 22 people died and over a hundred were injured in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. Attacks on neutral humanitarian workers have risen sharply during the last decade. In 2003 only seven humanitarians were kidnapped, in 2013 the figure was up to 132. In the same period, the number of humanitarian workers killed has gone up from 87 to 155.
There are, though, more aid workers today than a decade ago. In the past 10 years, the number of people affected by humanitarian crises has almost doubled, and is expected to keep rising. A number of global trends like climate change, population growth, unplanned urbanization, mass migration, food and water insecurity are causing an increasing number of disasters.
“Helping people can be a way of life”
In the Philippines, typhoons, earthquakes, volcano eruptions and other natural disasters are not unusual. John Louie Lico lost his family home in a tropical storm in 2011. Impressed by the assistance given to him following the disaster, John Louie now works for a Filipino NGO, Community and Family Services International. Following Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013, John Louie worked as a Logistics Assistant ensuring that aid got delivered even in the most remote islands affected by the storm. Being able to assist his own community is important to John Louie; one of the most memorable moments of his work was “seeing people getting up on their own feet after the calamity”.
Working closely with the Filipino civil society and the Government, UN agencies are providing humanitarian assistance in the Philippines. Sapia Taulan works for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). OCHA is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure a coherent response to emergencies. A humanitarian career was not originally in Sapia’s plans but after working with people affected by disasters she soon realized that supporting the most vulnerable and voiceless people was her calling. At OCHA Sapia facilitates coordination between the government and humanitarian actors. In her experience “coordination and communication are paramount to effective, efficient humanitarian response”.
In Syria, a deadly civil war has left nearly 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance inside the country. Mohamad Bakkar is the Head of the World Food Programme’s (WFP) sub office in Homs in western Syria. Despite the challenges he faces – dozens of aid workers have been killed in Syria since the start of the conflict – Mohamad says his job is incredibly rewarding. “Helping people can be a way of life,” he says, humbly. The biggest challenge he faces is reaching people in areas cut off by the fighting. “My most memorable moment was the first time we managed to enter a long besieged area and deliver food to more than 50,000 people who had not received anything for more than 1 year.”
“By working together we can achieve much more”
To support colleagues in the field many humanitarians work in headquarters and capitals across the globe where much of the policy development, coordination, advocacy and resource mobilization take place. In Brussels, 26 UN Agencies, Funds and Programmes work closely with the European Union - an important partner to the United Nations. “To avoid duplication of efforts, and gaps in emergency response – to save more lives - it is crucial to work in partnership “, says Vincent Hubin of OCHA Brussels Liaison Office to the EU and NATO, adding “by working together we can achieve much more than either UN or the EU could achieve alone.”
Whether in Manila, Damascus or Brussels, 19 August is a day to celebrate humanity, a spirit of solidarity. With more people than ever in need of humanitarian assistance, we continue to count on humanitarians - on people committed to making a difference across the world.
To find out more about World Humanitarian Day, please visit http://worldhumanitarianday.org/en/