19th August- The Origin and Significance of ‘World Humanitarian Day’

In the history of humanity, it has never been more dangerous to be a front-line humanitarian than it is now. The reasons include increase in the intensity of natural disasters, wars that continue to ravage, and the ongoing COVID-19 global pandemic. The climate crisis has been one of the main drivers of increasing humanitarian needs over the last decade, and this trend is expected to continue.

‘World Humanitarian Day’ is a global celebration of people helping people, which is intended to raise public awareness of humanitarian assistance worldwide. The day highlights the thousands of volunteers, professionals, organizations and crisis-affected people who deliver urgent health care, shelter, food, protection, water and much more. In Pakistan, the Army, several welfare organization and NGOs have been doing this work in times of crisis.

International days are celebrated to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political resources to address problems, and reinforce achievements of humanity. On 19th August 2003, a bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, killed 22 humanitarian aid workers, including the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 19th August as World Humanitarian Day (WHD) in 2009.

Why is it important to celebrate now?

In many parts of the world, conflicts over scarce resources are on the rise as climate-related disasters like flooding and drought rapidly deplete supplies of food and water, driving surging levels of need. Growing violence poses a grave threat to both civilians and the humanitarians working tirelessly to provide relief to an unprecedented 235 million people across the globe who require aid. Over the past year, continued conflict has resulted in hundreds of aid worker deaths and injuries and disrupted humanitarian operations.

Similarly, COVID-19 caused an international health and economic crisis. Globally, 4.1 million people have died. While people across the globe were told to quarantine and socially distance, humanitarian staff and volunteers saw their workload grow in parallel with their increased risk of contracting the disease. Yet they continued to work. The ‘World Health Organization’ estimated 115,000 health care workers have died in service during the pandemic.

Each year, World Humanitarian Day brings together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers. This day shows the importance, effectiveness and positive impact of humanitarian work. For many humanitarians, their work is more than a job; it is an increasingly dangerous calling. More than 6,000 aid workers have been killed, injured, or kidnapped, a figure that is likely underestimated as many assaults have not been reported since 2000.

Around 235 million people in 26 countries were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in 2021. This number has risen to 1 in every 33 people worldwide. It is a significant increase from 1 in 45 at the launch of the Global Humanitarian Overview 2020, which was already the highest figure in decades. In the past two decades, the global warming has nearly doubled natural disasters which claimed 1.23 million lives and disproportionately impacted low-income communities. These weather-related hazards are placing vulnerable people and the aid workers at risk.

In 2022, 303 million people require humanitarian assistance worldwide, a significant increase from the decades-high number of people in need last year. For many communities across the globe, life-threatening crises are becoming increasingly complex, as climate change, increasing conflicts, and the COVID-19 pandemic intensify hunger, deepen poverty, and escalate competition over scarce resources. This year, the theme for World Humanitarian Day will be #TheHumanRace. It will mark the global challenge for climate action in solidarity with people who need it the most.

The same factors driving unprecedented levels of need are also contributing to an increasingly dangerous operating environment for relief workers. Climate-related disasters such as cyclones and flash flooding are now occurring with greater frequency and intensity. This year, five elite USAID Disaster Assistance Response Teams (DARTs) were deployed to respond to the conflict in Ukraine and ongoing crises in Afghanistan, northern Ethiopia, Syria, and Venezuela. The humanitarian services usually include provision of lifesaving food assistance, safe drinking water, shelter, medical care, critical relief supplies, and protection for vulnerable groups.

Pakistan’s Humanitarian Efforts

Pakistan and its people have shown exemplary generosity, compassion and hospitality in hosting around 3 million Afghans for over four decades. According to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy report, 24.4 million Afghans are in need of humanitarian aid which constitutes more than half of the country’s population.

Pakistan has provided the world with a global public good by supporting the Afghan brothers to help them address looming humanitarian crises. It is time for the international community to assume its responsibilities as well while keeping aside their differences with the Taliban regime. The Government of Pakistan, with the support of UNHCR, completed the verification of about 1.3 million registered Afghan refugees residing in Pakistan. Close to one million new smart identity cards have been issued to date with validity until 30th June 2023; children under the age of five are included in their parents’ cards.

As of May 2022, 1,282,901 registered refugees still remain in Pakistan and are distributed as follows: Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (52.3%); Balochistan (24.5%); Punjab (14.4%); Sindh (5.6%); Islamabad (3.0%); and Azad Kashmir (0.3%). Globally, Afghanistan has the highest number of people in emergency food insecurity; 92% of the population faces insufficient food consumption, including around 9.6 million children who are unable to get food daily. Pakistan’s efforts to mitigate the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan include the announcement of a humanitarian assistance package of five billion rupees for Afghanis. It contains 50,000 metric tons of wheat, medicines / medical treatment, and shelters.

Assistance is ongoing under the Pak-Afghan Cooperation Forum (PACF). About 15,000 tons of humanitarian assistance via 694 trucks and four C-130 flights were provided till 21st June 2022. A Free Eye Camp was established in Kabul from 30th May to 5th June 2022 as a joint endeavor with the support of the Al-Khidmat Foundation and PACF. The camp treated more than 4,000 patients and operated on more than 1,000. The Edhi Foundation has won 14 international and ten national awards for humanitarian services, including the ‘International Balzon Price’ by Pakistan Civic Society in 2000 for promoting the cause of Social Welfare Services in Rome, Italy.

The worsening humanitarian situation in Afghanistan can be ameliorated by evolving a strategic approach to address humanitarian emergencies. It is guided by the imperative of upholding international humanitarian law, preventing conflicts from eruption, and peacefully resolving long-standing conflicts. This is the day to honor all those people who continue to provide support and protection to people in need. The dedication and selflessness of all those people who continue to serve each day, represent the best of humanity.

19th August- The Origin and Significance of ‘World Humanitarian Day’

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