20 August 2012

World Humanitarian Day – Sunday 19 August 2012

On World Humanitarian Day every year, the United Nations remembers those who have been killed while working with the UN to help others. In 2011, 308 humanitarian workers were killed, injured or kidnapped. Most of them were local staff, and most of them were targeted because of their work.

Four years ago, the U.N. General Assembly proclaimed August 19 as World Humanitarian Day to commemorate the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad that killed 22 U.N. staff members.

World Humanitarian Day was held on Sunday 19 August 2012 under the headline of the most basic principle of humanitarian work: People Helping People.

The UN called on all people around the world to join their voices with the female singer Beyoncé by pledging to help someone on 19th August.  They were asked to register their name and record a message at the UN I was here website and people responded in their millions.  In a statement, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) said “The World Humanitarian Day 2012 campaign has made social media history by sharing more than one billion messages of hope”.

Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary General, commented that IFSW supports the aims of the United Nations appeal. ‘Social workers know what it means to ‘be there’ in times of trouble’, he said. ‘Whether the troubles are the result of personal difficulties or major disasters affecting millions, social workers are there standing alongside people in their time of need. We honour those humanitarian workers, including social workers, who have given their lives while doing their humanitarian work. We support the UN’s call to everybody to show that we care enough to do something special to help others.’

The campaign numbers around the world soared after the release of a video by Beyoncé. Valerie Amos, UN under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, praised the “amazing work” of the singer in taking the UN’s cause further. Beyonce sang the song for the video at the UN headquarters in front of scenes from recent disasters. “This is our time to leave our mark on the world and show that we were here and we care,” Beyonce said in a statement.

Watch the Beyonce video here.

The Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development includes specific commitments with respect to disaster response and humanitarian action.  IFSW Special Representative on The Agenda, David N Jones, met Valerie Amos earlier in August 2012 at the Breaking the Mold conference on disaster response and social work, coordinated by Professor Lena Dominelli (IASSW lead on disaster response) at the University of Durham, UK.  In her conference speech, she said: ‘I hope that we can partner with some of you to integrate the social work dimension into our work’.  Abye Tasse (IASSW Coordinator of The Global Agenda), Lena Dominelli and David Jones took the opportunity to inform Valerie Amos and her staff about The Global Agenda and to reinforce her recognition of the role of social work in disaster response.

For inspiration, and to remind everyone of the extraordinary things ordinary people are capable of doing, the UN has released videos of professional aid workers telling a story about someone who inspired them in a crisis.

CNN reports on World Humanitarian Day can be seen here.

Why has the number of annual incidents of major violence against humanitarian workers more than doubled since 2003?  Analysis of the global situation is provided in this commentary by Ashely Jackson from the London-based Overseas Development Institute.