World Humanitarian Day raises awareness for the plight of civilians who have become caught up in conflicts the world over, hoping to make a difference while advocating for their survival, well-being and dignity. In 2021, total people requiring humanitarian assistance set a new record, now standing at 235 million in 36 countries.
It is important to note that the same conditions that drive unprecedented levels of need are paving the growingly life-threatening road that relief workers are treading on. Losing their lives is the last in a long list of harrowing misfortunes and tragedies. As such, WHD also honors and works to raise support for the myriad humanitarian workers who risk, and sometimes lose, their lives.
Eighteen years ago, on August 19th, 2003, an Al-Qaeda bomb in Baghdad’s Canal Hotel blew away 22 people, among them the chief humanitarian in Iraq, Brazil-born Sergio Vieira de Mello, who at the time was appointed Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. In 2009, the General Assembly of the UN ratified every year’s nineteenth day of August as World Humanitarian Day.
This day of tribute recognizes aid workers who risk it all to help people in need, foremostly those who have given their lives to appease suffering from global crises.
Every year, WHD, a campaign organized by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), and all the partners across the humanitarian system bring forth a theme. This year, this honor goes to the immediate human cost of the climate crisis. The main focus is to pressure world leaders into taking immediate climate action in favor of the world’s most vulnerable people.
Facts & Figures
- In 2020, 475 aid workers were either killed (108), wounded (242) or kidnapped (125).
- The impediments arising from the ongoing climate change and the recent killer wave known as the Covid-19 pandemic have placed an onus on travel and restricted movement for international staff, making the figure of national aid worker victims in 2020 much higher than usual, to the tune of 95%. Additionally, these two occurrences have also multiplied hunger, intensified poverty made conflicts even more dangerous over resource scarcity.
- 2020 also marked the first time in 20 years that Afghanistan was not one of the top 5 most violent contexts for aid workers.
- Leading the Most Violent Countries chart today are South Sudan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), closely followed by the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali, where incidents have more than doubled since 2018. The most recent headache is Tigray of Ethiopia, which saw attacks against aid workers rise considerably in 2020 and continues worsening into 2021.
- 97 million people are affected by natural disasters.
- Over 1.3 billion people have no access to electricity.
- 51.2 million people have been displaced due to war or other violent conflicts.
- Every 20 seconds a child dies from water-borne illness.
The United States has a distinguished history of helping people in need. In 2021, six elite USAID Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DARTs) were deployed against escalating conflict in Tigray, a deadly explosion in Beirut, and ongoing crises in Central America’s Northern Triangle Region, South Sudan, Syria, and Venezuela.
Around the world, USAID’s disaster and humanitarian teams provide lifesaving food assistance,
drinking water, shelter, medical care, critical relief supplies, and protection for vulnerable groups.