UNESCAP News Services
Date: 19 August 2011
Press Release No: L/45/2011
Remarks at World Humanitarian Day Ceremony
Ms. Noeleen Heyzer
Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
19 August 2011
Thank you for joining us at this ceremony to mark the third World Humanitarian Day. The theme of this year is “people helping people”.
May I ask you to join me in one minute’s silence to pay tribute to those of our colleagues who have been killed while carrying out their work.
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Ladies and Gentlemen
Today is a day to remember the millions of people affected by war, natural disasters, sickness, and famine, and those who are working to relieve their suffering.
Those in need desperately require our help, but our ability to reach them is, sadly, increasingly challenged and at risk.
Humanitarian workers have no other agenda than saving lives and delivering the basics of life - food, water, shelter, medical care, and protection for the most vulnerable. Yet in too many places where humanitarians work, whereas once they were respected, today they are targeted.
Violent attacks on humanitarian personnel are increasingly frequent and brutal. Since the beginning of the last decade, the number of attacks has tripled, resulting in more than 100 deaths annually.
We face a future in which more humanitarian aid will be needed to cope with the impact of climate change and natural hazards, and the rising numbers of civilian victims of internal conflicts.
Around the world today from the Horn of Africa to Sri Lanka, from Colombia to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, aid workers are on the ground, giving of themselves for others - people helping people.
When humanitarian aid workers do not have full and free access, many hundreds of thousands of the people they need to reach cannot receive the quantity or quality of assistance they require.
Better acceptance of humanitarian work by state and non-state actors alike is desperately needed. We need to communicate that aid workers represent no one ideology, culture or standpoint.
The vast majority of aid workers come from the countries in which they work. Most of the victims of attacks on aid workers are these same national staff.
These brave individuals are united by their shared commitment to humanitarianism, which is a universal value and responsibility. They work on behalf of everyone.
Preventing them from doing their work harms no-one more than the most vulnerable.
Today a terrible crisis in the Horn of Africa is unfolding. Humanitarian workers’ primary focus is on trying to get humanitarian assistance to the most severely affected people in what is a highly insecure political and security environment.
Gaining access to these people is the uppermost priority for the humanitarian community. It is thus an appropriate moment to call for a renewed commitment to humanitarian principles by all concerned.
On this World Humanitarian Day let us once again remember the millions of people in need of help around the world, the humanitarians who have lost their lives in the course of their work, their loved ones left behind, and the thousands of aid workers who have refused to be deterred and follow in their footsteps.
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