There are people dying… And it's time to lend a hand to life… The greatest gift of all - World Humanitarian Day 2012

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Many people dedicate their lives to helping others – facing danger and death…

It was on 19 August 2003 that a car bomb attack on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, killed Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, and 21 other UN personnel… Following this atrocity, a resolution  adopted by the General Assembly of the UN, designates this day as World Humanitarian Day to coincide with the anniversary.

This day recognizes the security situation in which humanitarian aid workers operate. In the past aid workers were respected, not targeted. Emblems of humanitarian organisations traditionally provided a shield for aid workers, whereas now they are turning them into potential targets.

EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response Kristalina Georgieva stated “Humanitarian work is one of the world's most dangerous professions. Kidnappings, shootings and death threats are all part of the job description in places such as Sudan, Syria, Somalia and others blighted by conflict. Those who work in this rocky terrain are increasingly exposed to risk while maintaining a lifeline to the victims of wars and disasters around the world.

It is self-evidently unacceptable that they are subject to harassment, abduction or even plain murder while serving humanity."

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The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. There are over 200, 000 aid workers around the world committed to helping people in distress, and sacrificing their own lives to the dangers involved.

Commissioner Georgieva points out that “attacks on humanitarian posts have tripled in the last decade. Since 2011, 109 humanitarian workers have been killed, 143 others were wounded and 132 have been kidnapped, according to the United Nations. Crimes against unarmed civilians are never justified. When these crimes are committed against people who dedicate their lives to saving others the injustice is ever more apparent.”

And as stressed by Georgieva “it's important to remember that the overwhelming majority of these victims are not international aid workers from Western countries but those serving in their own country, working closest to the local population. Humanitarian aid is not the preserve of the West but a global imperative. The many national aid workers who have made the ultimate sacrifice bear witness to this.

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Over the last twelve months Syria has become a killing ground. Six humanitarian aid workers have been killed since the beginning of this year, all of them Syrian staff. In two cases it is alleged that the victims, both from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, were deliberately targeted. As with the shooting at ambulances, the misuse of hospitals, the shelling of civilians, these are direct violations of International Humanitarian Law.”

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What is the EU’s role in Humanitarian Aid?

The European Union is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid.

For the European Commission, relief operations are coordinated by the Directorate General for Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) which is made up of 750 people working around the globe to provide assistance and relief to those in need. Aid is channelled impartially to the affected populations, regardless of their race, ethnic group, religion, gender, age, nationality or political affiliation, through Dg ECHO’s operational partners. The partners include over 200 Non-Government Organisations, United Nations agencies and the Red Cross family.

Since 1992, the European Commission has funded relief operations in well over 100 countries outside the European Union.  Moreover, in order to respond better to disasters inside and outside the EU, ECHO is also in charge of coordinating EU civil protection.

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What can YOU do?

Every day we see and hear images and stories of pain and suffering in our own neighborhoods as well as far away countries. But we also find acts of kindness, no matter how great or small. World Humanitarian Day is a global celebration of people helping people – a day on which we can all do something for a humanitarian cause.

Georgieva concluded that “This is also a day to examine our own lives and consider what more we can do to help - to reach out to people enduring conflict, disaster and hardship.  Let those we honour today inspire us to start our own journey to make the world a better place and bring our human family more closely together.”

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This year’s United Nations’ campaign message "I Was Here" endorsed by popular American singer, songwriter, record producer and actress Beyoncé, is about making your mark by doing something good, somewhere, for someone else. View the message here 

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