"World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honor the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk."
— UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon
In December 2008, the sixty-third session of the UN General Assembly decided to designate August 19th as World Humanitarian Day. This was the date on which a brutal terrorist attack on UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 killed 22 people, including UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. World Humanitarian Day honors those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service and those who continue to bring assistance and relief to millions.
The Day also seeks to draw attention to humanitarian needs worldwide and the importance of international cooperation in meeting these needs. Every year, disasters cause immense suffering for millions of people – usually the world's poorest, most marginalized and vulnerable individuals.
Humanitarian aid workers strive to provide life-saving assistance and long term rehabilitation to disaster-affected communities, regardless of where they are in the world and without discrimination based on nationality, social group, religion, sex, race or any other factor.
Humanitarian aid is based on a number of founding principles, including humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. Humanitarian aid workers should be respected, and be able to access those in need in order to provide vital assistance.
Humanitarian aid workers can be international, but most come from the country in which they work. They reflect all cultures, ideologies and backgrounds and they are united by their commitment to humanitarianism.
Everyone can be a humanitarian. People affected by disasters are often the first to help their own communities following a disaster.
Responding to emergencies is only one aspect of humanitarian work. Humanitarian workers also support communities to rebuild their lives after disasters, to become more resilient to future crises, to advocate for their voices to be heard, and to build lasting and sustainable peace in areas of conflict.
A record 130 million people are dependent on humanitarian assistance to survive. Grouped together, these people in need would comprise the tenth most populous nation on Earth.
These figures are truly staggering, yet they tell only a fraction of the story. Hidden behind the statistics are individuals, families and communities whose lives have been devastated. People no different to you and me: children, women and men who face impossible choices every day. They are parents who must choose between buying food or medicine for their children; children who must choose between school and working to support their families; families who must risk bombing at home or a perilous escape by sea.
The solutions to the crises that have plunged these people into such desperate hardship are neither simple nor quick. But there are things we can all do – today, and every day. We can show compassion, we can raise our voices against injustice, and we can work for change.
World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honor the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk.
Today, I urge everyone to sign on to the United Nations “World You’d Rather” campaign. As well as raising awareness and building empathy, the campaign has a concrete goal: to raise money for the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund and to enroll the support of individuals everywhere as Messengers of Humanity. We need everybody to demand that their societies and governments put humanity first.
In 2016, 9,000 participants gathered in Istanbul for the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit. World leaders committed to transform the lives of people living in conflict, disaster and acute vulnerability. They rallied behind the Agenda for Humanity and its pledge to leave no one behind.
This promise is also at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals. With their focus on human rights, resilience and poverty eradication, these 17 global goals offer a 15-year plan to reduce needs and vulnerability and promote a world of peace, dignity and opportunity for all. To succeed on this collective journey, we need everyone to play their part. Each one of us can make a difference. On this World Humanitarian Day, let us unite in the name of humanity and show that we cannot and will not leave any one behind.