Today is the 10th anniversary today of the bombing of the UN headquarters in Iraq, which killed the UN chief envoy to Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other humanitarian workers. World Humanitarian Day takes place every year on August 19 to honour all humanitarians who have lost their lives or who have worked in the promotion of the humanitarian cause.
Since that attack, humanitarian action has become more – not less – dangerous. Statistics from The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) show that, on average, attacks on aid workers have gone up considerably since 2003-5, particularly kidnapping. Over 200 victims of attacks, including seventy-six deaths, have already been recorded this year. Most of the attacks take place in Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and both Sudans.
On Wednesday, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) to announced that it was withdrawing completely from Somalia after 22 years operating there. It blamed civilian leaders as well as armed groups, who they said “increasingly support, tolerate, or condone the killing, assaulting, and abducting of humanitarian aid workers.” Sixteen of its staff have been killed since 1991. MSF noted that much of the “intolerable risk” is borne by their Somali colleagues.
As in previous years, a very large majority of the worldwide victims have been nationals of the countries where the attacks took place. They make up even larger proportion of total humanitarian workers.
Adele Harmer of the Overseas Development Institute lists a number of steps intended to improve the safety of national staff and local partners, including training, decentralizing organisational authority and appointing diaspora nationals as international staff.
It is these personnel, together with international staff that World Humanitarian Day is intended to celebrate. This year, the UN and its humanitarian partners are launching what they describe as a ground-breaking campaign, “The world needs more…”. It calls for more funds to help their work. Even though that work has become more dangerous, the number of aid workers continues to grow.
Concern Worldwide is one of the organisations that are promoting the campaign today. Four of the humanitarian workers that they have chosen to highlight are representative of contemporary humanitarian relief and development work. Some workers are drawn from the local population. Some respond to disasters and the aftermath while others may build disaster resilience. An ability to innovate and adapt to problems, environment and people is always an asset, and the empowerment of women is often an effective strategy.
Concern describes four of its staff (including Fiona Maclysaght, pictured) as follows:
The world needs more resilience-builders…like Fiona
In spite of the harsh winters and isolation that comes along with working in our remote program areas in northeast Afghanistan, Country Director Fiona Maclysaght has embraced her work with Concern’s national staff to help the most vulnerable populations in the country’s hardest-to-reach places. What inspires her is the commitment and dedication of her colleagues and local community members to provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities, and build their resilience to natural disasters like floods and landslides. “You hear all the bad news on Afghanistan, but it is an amazing country to work in particularly with the people we work with, they’re very hospitable, very kind, good humored, very hard-working… They’re interested in working and helping their own people –their heart is in the work.”
The world needs more innovators…like Tham
Jean Frenel Tham is the Assistant Country Director for Concern in Haiti. Born into a family of 11 children in southwest Haiti, Tham understood from a young age the struggles of rural poverty. At ten years old, he began his education and didn’t look back until he graduated with honors from university. Though many of his peers left Haiti to pursue lucrative careers, Tham chose to pursue his passion of “innovating for the poorest.” Following the earthquake in 2010, he sent his family to the U.S. but remained in Haiti, leading water distributions into Port-au-Prince’s poorest communities, often at great personal risk. Throughout the emergency phase, Tham had a guiding hand in every aspect of Concern’s response, from the distribution of non-food items to cash transfers, shelter solutions, and rubbish removal. As the crisis subsided, Tham helped develop and roll out an innovative approach that is helping people get out of camps and into permanent homes. His commitment to Haiti’s poorest, whether in the face of disaster, in the midst of violent gang conflict, or in a remote village, has never wavered.
The world needs more role models…like Gloria
Gloria is a water and sanitation engineer with Concern in Ngara, Tanzania. She works in the poorest and most remote communities to break down the barriers traditionally imposed on women who walk long distances and endure intense physical strain to fetch water on a daily basis. As she helped design a solution to the problem, many people did not believe that a young female engineer could pull off the ambitious plan that would clearly be needed. Despite the doubts, Gloria designed and managed the installation of solar-powered water systems that have provided water for thousands of Tanzanian families. When she isn’t designing and building water systems, Gloria takes it upon herself to empower other women and girls. “Whenever a girl needs an inspirational talk, I’m always there. When women are empowered, they can achieve a lot. They should do more than what they think they can do. They shouldn’t be seeing their limit. The sky’s their limit.”
The world needs more change makers…like Áine
A 30-year veteran of international humanitarian aid and development work, Áine Fay is the Operations Director of Concern Worldwide U.S. Trained as a nurse, Aine joined Concern in 1983 as a volunteer in Bangladesh, where she worked to provide health, nutrition, education and skills training to the most vulnerable women and children. She has lived and worked in some of the world’s most difficult environments, including Ethiopia, Uganda, and Afghanistan. During her time as Country Director in Pakistan Áine lead the response to the devastating floods that struck in 2010 and again in 2011. She also spearheaded Concern’s emergency response programs in Indonesia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, and Haiti. “Working with Concern introduced me to a whole new world Parts of that experience I honestly feel I could have done without; being in situations where the problems seem so many and so insurmountable that you wonder what can be done. But coupled with that are experiences that have filled me with joy, hope and a belief in humanity and in particular a belief in the power and dedication of women to fight for a better future for their children.”