On World Humanitarian Day: An integral part of human rights

Essam Shiha
Wednesday 18 Aug 2021

This is the 12th anniversary of World Humanitarian Day, which was designated by the UN General Assembly

In 2008, the UN General Assembly designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day to raise awareness about humanitarian aid worldwide and to pay tribute to the personnel risking their lives in order to bring it forth. The first time World Humanitarian Day was commemorated was on 19 August 2009.

This day coincides with the day in which an attack was launched against the UN headquarters in Baghdad on 19 August 2003, killing 22 people including the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.

Amid the continuation of the coronavirus pandemic, the unprecedented needs and the growing insecurity, aid workers and healthcare responders remain steadfast in serving the world’s most vulnerable. Thus, they became the essence of World Humanitarian Day last year, which witnessed the outbreak of the globally painful pandemic.

On World Humanitarian Day, the world has honoured all humanitarian workers – most of whom work in their local communities – exerting an exceptional effort during extraordinary times in order to help women, men and children whose lives were turned upside down due to crises and the COVID-19 pandemic. In responding to COVID-19 and the enormous increase in humanitarian need it caused, the importance of these real heroes’ devotion, perseverance, and making the ultimate sacrifice grows. They represent the most sublime humanitarian manifestations.

It is noticeable that in most cases the first responders are those in need themselves; the refugees, civil society organisation members and local health workers. They are the ones bringing food, shelter, healthcare, protection and hope to others during raging conflicts, displacement, catastrophes and diseases.

In our celebration of this year’s World Humanitarian Day, we find that the climate emergency is causing chaos on a scale that those exerting efforts to address climate change – and the entire human society – cannot control. Time passes by quickly for those most affected by this climatic emergency, who at the same time are the least causing it. Damage has befallen their homes and livelihoods.

With the focus of most of the climate campaigns targeting the slowdown of climate change and securing the planet’s future, the World Humanitarian Day 2021 sheds light on the direct consequences of the climate emergency on the most vulnerable in the world, and ensuring that their problems are at the top of the agenda of the UN Climate Change Conference to be held next November.

As a matter of fact, the global economy bears the cost of human crises in the millions, and this in turn puts a limit on gains achieved by development and even reverses their course. For every year, needs grow and costs mount up. The volume of UN calls for humanitarian aid increased from $3.4 billion in 2003 to $20 billion in 2016. At the same time, the gap between the volume of needs and the available resources to meet them widens. Hence, it is imperative to reverse this course in humanitarian work on a global scale.

In fact, climate change, economic growth, inequality, food price fluctuations and the scarcity of resources are matters that have implications transcending national borders. For demographic changes, especially the fast ones, and random urban sprawl exposes more people to natural catastrophes. Civil wars, to which 80 percent of humanitarian needs are attributed, are also on the rise. Suffice to mention that, for instance, civil wars increased from four wars in 2007 to 11 wars in 2014. Undoubtedly, humanitarian work is an integral part of the world human rights movement; for the struggle for preserving everybody’s rights represents, even during times of conflicts and catastrophes, one of the most difficult missions in the world.

The culture of human rights is an indivisible whole and one does not neglect one of life’s facets no matter how high its risks or the cost of addressing them. Let human rights be a convergence point for humanity in which all efforts are combined after narrow interests scattered them and took them away from humanity’s noble spirit.

*The writer is the secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights

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