World Humanitarian Day is commemorated each year to salute the work of humanitarian aid workers around the world. It is held on August 19, the day in 2003 that an explosion ripped through UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq killing 22 people and injuring 100 -- many of them UN staff members. This year the theme of World Humanitarian Day is "Words into Action."
Some of the most courageous and dedicated aid workers I know are delivering aid inside Syria under very dangerous conditions. While government officials in Washington, Paris, and Moscow address Syria, as parliamentarians hold committee meetings, and Assistant Secretaries like me go on fact finding missions to the region all in an effort to stop the suffering, these brave colleagues translate our concerns into life-saving action. They do this as battles rage and bombs drop around them.
Some work for agencies of the United Nations or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Others are part of the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement. Many are Syrian. Here are some examples:
- Staff of the UN's World Food Program take convoys of food and other supplies across battle lines to reach people in need.
- The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) provides kits with soap to keep families clean and healthy and supply sanitary napkins to women. UNFPA vouchers can be used by pregnant women to arrange safe deliveries of their babies.
- The International Committee of the Red Cross and UNICEF have repaired water systems and installed generators and water tanks to keep clean water flowing to 10 million people.
- Using private contributions and networks of intrepid Syrians, NGOs are delivering flour to bakeries, distributing medical supplies and pushing aid out to hard-to-reach locations.
- Syrian-American groups send doctors into Syria even as scores of Syrians flee their country. They run clinics and procure fuel for hospitals.
- UNHCR was helping Iraqi refugees who had fled to Syria when violence erupted in the spring of 2011. Today, it not only continues to help those affected by the conflict inside Syria with deliveries of tents and other supplies, it plays a leading role protecting and aiding the nearly two million Syrian refugees who have fled to safety across Syria’s borders to neighboring countries.
Many have experienced dangerous situations and survived; some have been caught in the crossfire and perished, including ten UN staff members.
The U.S. government has contributed over $1 billion in humanitarian aid since the start of the crisis and is a top supporter of many of these relief organizations. They couldn’t do it without our support, but we also depend on them. So today we recognize the aid workers, in Syria and throughout the Middle East, who strive to turn “words into action.”