UN Honours Sacrifices, Celebrates Spirit of Humanitarian Workers

2014•08•20 UN News Centre

The United Nations is marking World Humanitarian Day today by paying tribute to aid workers who carry out life-saving activities around the world, often in dangerous and difficult circumstances, while celebrating the spirit of humanitarian work worldwide.

“On World Humanitarian Day, we honour the heroic aid workers who rush bravely to help people in need. We remember their sacrifices, and we recognize the millions of people who count on humanitarian workers for their very survival,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in his message for the Day.

The Day is observed annually on 19 August, the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 people, including UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. Among today’s events is a wreath-laying ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York to honour aid workers killed in the line of duty.

This year’s observance comes at a time when the number of aid workers killed, kidnapped and seriously wounded has reached the highest number ever recorded, according to new figures published today by the United Kingdom-based organization known as Humanitarian Outcomes.

The research shows that in 2013, 155 aid workers were killed, 171 were seriously wounded and 134 were kidnapped. Overall this represents a 66 per cent increase in the number of victims from the previous year. With 81 aid workers killed in 2013, Afghanistan is still the country with the highest number of attacks.

Preliminary figures show that as of 15 August 2014, 79 aid workers have been killed this year alone. The months of July and August saw a rise in the level of attacks and incidents involving aid workers including in Gaza and South Sudan.

Violence against aid workers

Graphic: UN News Service Section.

“One aid worker killed in the line of duty is one too many. Nurses, engineers, logisticians and drivers for example all take great risk doing their work in sometimes extremely dangerous and difficult circumstances,” said Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.

“World Humanitarian Day is the day we remember the sacrifices that humanitarian workers make. We also pay tribute to all humanitarians who work to help and support the most vulnerable,” added Ms. Amos, who is attending a memorial service in London for aid workers.

Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), that aid workers endure harsh conditions and risk harm to save lives, rebuild communities, and bear witness in conflicts, catastrophes, and crises.

“These emergencies have increased in both frequency and complexity. So, too, has the risk to humanitarian workers — and the death toll among them has risen accordingly,” he said.

Only last month, he pointed out, humanitarian workers were killed in South Sudan by armed fighters while supporting the mission to reach malnourished children before it is too late. In Gaza, aid workers have lost their lives in shelling attacks while providing critical care to the sick, the wounded, and the dying, and comforting families of the dead.

Attacks against aid workers

Graphic: UN News Service Section.

And in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, health workers trying desperately to save lives in the Ebola epidemic have succumbed to the deadly virus themselves. Others have been threatened with bodily harm for trying to stop the spread of the disease.

“The loss of these heroes is a loss to the entire humanitarian community — and the world,” said Mr. Lake. “On World Humanitarian Day, we mourn their deaths and mark their sacrifice. We also honour the dedication of all the brave women and men who continue to do their jobs every day despite the risks — in the service of our common cause: A more safe, just, and peaceful world.”

UN General Assembly President John Ashe said the Day is not only an opportunity for the international community to celebrate the spirit of humanitarian work, but also to underscore the need to do more, as growing humanitarian crises continue to threaten millions of the most vulnerable communities where lives have been torn apart by war and other natural disasters.

“As we look to implement a new sustainable development agenda, eradicating poverty while maintaining peaceful societies based on an inclusive, people-centred approach will be essential components if we are to achieve success and build a just and prosperous future for all the world’s citizens,” he said in a statement.

As part of this year’s celebration of humanitarian action, the UN is shining the spotlight on ‘humanitarian heroes’ — the aid workers themselves — and their stories of life on the frontline of some of the world’s worst and often forgotten humanitarian crises.

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