On World Humanitarian Day

Twelve years ago today, terrorists drove a car bomb into the United Nations compound in Baghdad. Among the 22 people killed in this attack was the UN’s legendary diplomat and peacemaker, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

Every year on August 19, we remember all of the brave men and women who have lost their lives while seeking to alleviate the pain and suffering of others.

Through their noble work, for which they risked everything, they demonstrate the best of humanity.

The work of humanitarians has never been more vital. Nearly 60 million people worldwide are displaced because of violence and armed conflict. Disease outbreaks threaten lives and undermine fragile economies, increasing the peril to the most vulnerable. In Syria, five years of conflict has turned a thriving nation into the worst humanitarian crisis of our generation. In South Sudan, a mere four years after celebrating its birth as a new nation, more than a third of South Sudan’s population are enduring life-threatening hunger. And in Yemen, the humanitarian situation has grown so dire that it threatens to become the site of the first famine in the history of the modern Middle East.

Humanitarians are the ultimate upstanders.

They save lives, mitigate suffering, and help to rebuild in the wake of disasters, often at grave personal risk. In 2014, 329 aid workers in more than 25 countries were reported to have been killed, injured, or kidnapped in the line of duty. Many more incidents go unreported; relief workers routinely experience harassment, threats, or intimidation; and the majority of humanitarian workers are locally employed staff — brave men and women who assist their neighbors, often crossing lines that others dare not approach.

Photo of Jason Chau courtesy of USAID’s Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance

So on World Humanitarian Day, we celebrate those who are making tremendous sacrifices on behalf of others — courageous individuals such as Jason Chau, who, after heavy fighting in South Sudan, helped to oversee life-saving programs that provided shelter, clean water, nutrition, and protection for the vulnerable; or Dr. Mosoka Fallah, who has been at the frontline of Liberia’s Ebola outbreak and whose tireless work to trace the contacts of those infected has been instrumental to halting Ebola’s spread.

Photo of Dr. Mosoka Fallah courtesy of USAID

Twelve years after the loss of Vieira de Mello and twenty-one others, we find their idealism and bravery evident in the service and sacrifice of thousands of humanitarians around the world.

Today, we not only recognize these individuals; we call on all governments to protect humanitarian workers and to end impunity for those who blatantly target them.