On August 19th, the International Community paid rightful respect to all humanitarian workers in duty and those who have lost their lives during international relief missions. Every year, United Nations committees and all international humanitarian organizations celebrate the World Humanitarian Day by honoring the dedicated and courageous personnel whose tireless work provides protection and life-saving support for world’s most vulnerable people.
In 2015, we recall all humanitarian efforts by sharing individual stories meant to inspire the humanitarian values and spirit in every one of us. “This spirit knows no national or cultural boundaries”, argued two key personalities from UN and EU humanitarian affairs structures, Stephen O’Brien and Christos Stylianides. Last week, we used #ShareHumanity to convey the stories of those who have endangered their life in the service of peace and humanity. We listened to Juanes singing about the need of love as a solution to the escalating crises from the all the globe. It is a certitude that the world has become a more unsafe place than it was last century. With an increased frequency of natural disasters (at least 400 recorded last year, according to UNFPA) and an unpredictable nature of conflict, we must reflect upon the lessons that the recent history has given us in order to make the humanitarian work to be more effective and less dangerous.
The World Humanitarian Day was established in 2003 after the suicide bomb attack from 19 August, in Baghdad, which claimed the lives of 22 people, including Sérgio Vieira de Mello, United Nations’ Special Representative in Iraq. During the past 12 years, the number of violent attacks against humanitarian personnel has increased extremely. According to the statistics cited by the journalists from The Irish Times, 143 aid workers were the victims of serious attacks in 2003 and in 2013, 155 humanitarian workers have been killed during 474 attacks. Last year, the international society witnessed the death of 120 members from international aid missions, while the overall number of attacks’ victims exceeded 330. Apart from being affected or targeted during disasters and conflicts, humanitarian workers, especially from the health field, have, unfortunately, become victims of the medical crises that they were trying to solve. As stated by WHO, 37 health workers and accompanying personnel died since 2012 while they were fighting to end polio in Pakistan and Nigeria. Moreover, during Ebola outbreak in West African countries, at least half of the 875 health workers reported to be infected, lost their lives together with the others 10,000 local residents.
Another aspect of the global humanitarian activities is the available funding. According to the UN officials, the request for this year has reached 20 billion dollars as contemporary global crises critically affected at least 100 million people. The WHO international staffs have to provide live-saving health care services to the 60 million victims from regions affected by natural disasters (Nepal earthquake, Central Africa droughts), conflicts (Syria, Iraq, South Sudan) or outbreaks (Ebola). In 2014, as reported by the Guardian, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) asked for 17 billion dollars to finance relief activities in conflict areas (Syria, South Sudan and Central African Republic). Recently, a shortage in UN funds has caused the temporary restrain in using the air transportation to disseminate international aid to remote communities in Nepal.
As we look back at the increasing costs (both human and financial) of humanitarian activities, we realize there is a constant need to improve the effectiveness of international aid so that no personal shall be deprived of life-saving support. At the same time, as Christos Stylianides, the EU Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management argued in his statement, saving lives should not cost lives. Therefore, the international community must clearly set the priorities of the future humanitarian work as mainly reducing human loss and hardships of humanitarian crises victims.
The World Humanitarian Summit represents an excellent opportunity to assess solutions for a better management of resources and risks in conducting humanitarian activities. On the 23rd and 24th of May 2016, all represented actors will meet in the historical city of Istanbul to discuss effective ways to diminish man-made conflicts by increasing the general awareness of the negative effects generated. Around 80% of the humanitarian crises we deal with are generated by conflict, according to specialists from The Guardian. Only a more extended commitment from all global actors, responsible in shaping the future course of the world humanitarian structure, can make a difference. An example of such engagement is the participation of all actors in funding international humanitarian activities by giving 0.7% of their gross national income. On the other side, the enforcement of International Humanitarian Law in any case of a violent attack directed against humanitarian personnel. In the end, the outcome will be dependent on the UN’s leadership capacities to focus the divergent national interests of all representatives attending the World Humanitarian Summit into a common goal: building a more peaceful and humane world.