Flashing images in the news, suffering humans, children wasting away, we see our fellow brothers and sisters in humanity in destitution beyond belief and we either change the channel or we wonder at the impotence of a World not being able to solve the most basic of its problems, the readily preventable humanitarian disasters. If you think about it, every humanitarian crisis is man made on some level and can be mitigated if we all cared enough.
At the same time as the International community scrambles to pour hundreds of billions of dollars to save a bank or two, to spend countless billions developing a space programme, trillions for arms and machines of war, or hundreds of billions on the care of pets, or in fighting obesity that is the new epidemic of the modern times where we pig out AND waste one third of our food supply, there are humans like you and I who have lost everything and are dying of hunger, aching for a break, for a speck of a future we all take for granted. They are that way either due to a disaster, a conflict, drought, uneven development where their countries don’t stand a chance to compete economically, or simply due to the fact that the collectivity of nations are constantly failing them.
While the World looks away and forgets crises like the one in the Horn of Africa that the UN has been warning about for years, there are those who never leave, who stay the course, whose mission it is to help those in need of a chance at life, a shot at a livelihood and a semblance of dignity.
An organization I belong to, called the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation (sergiovdmfoundation.org) , was behind drafting the resolution sent to the UN General Assembly to demarcate August 19th as World Humanitarian Day. Sergio, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Head of Mission in Iraq at the time, was the star casualty in a terrorist bombing in Baghdad on August 19th 2003 that targeted the UN and other humanitarians doing their job in dangerous circumstances trying to help Iraqis rebuild their lives.
That is what Humanitarian workers do. They stare misery, hunger, hopelessness and despair in the face and transmit a can do attitude of care, empathy, respect and dedication that gives the victims of humanitarian disasters the all too necessary ingredient to keep living, the all too crucial sense of hope.
To the colleagues who are risking their lives in Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Congo, Sudan, and everywhere around the Globe where people are in dire need of help, we say we are with you, we value what you are doing for those who need your help the most, for the mother who has lost two of her precious children on her long walk from Somalia to the refugee camp of Dadaab, and still has to somehow go on to raise her remaining children and to make a life somewhere, somehow. We thank you for giving work to the refugee father who loses some of his dignity everyday that passes without providing for his family, we value what you give young victims of crises in whom you instil a sense of positivity, helping them dream of a better future, a future where the World can attest to what they can give, where they are no longer living on handouts because their circumstances plucked them from their land at gunpoint and they lost everything, even their tears.
Today we recognize the work of someone like the UAE Red Crescent worker in Mogadishu I spoke to yesterday, who is braving insecurity, heat, lack of infrastructure to deliver aid to those who need it the most and who could die before his very eyes if he falters. To our UN and NGO colleagues who are at the border of Libya, who receive refugees coming to Ethiopia, too tired to walk, who have to stare human misery in the face and keep going, doing a job that is the most noble of all, we say we are forever in your debt as a humanity.
But that is what Humanitarian work is.
On August 19th we commemorate your work, those who are still on the frontlines and those who already made the ultimate sacrifice of paying with their lives to help others. We at UNHCR and in the UN system remember and honor your sacrifices every day, because you are there with the victims of humanitarian disasters every single day of the year.
For that, our colleagues, we are forever grateful.