"Words Into Action"

Posted by Anne C. Richard
August 19, 2013
Syrian Refugees Walk Near UNHCR Tents in Jordan

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.”



Bruce M.
California, USA
August 26, 2013
$1 Billion in humanitarian aid. How does that compare with the amount of money the US spent in arming foreign mercenaries to stoke the conflict and displace all those people?
Eric J.
New Mexico, USA
August 26, 2013

@ Anne Richard,

 One of the most insideous crimes perpetrated in the Syrian conflict is the deliberate targeting of civilians in order to create a mass exodus from Syria on a Biblical scale.

 I watched Sec. Kerry's remarks on Syria today, and I know he and just about everyone else hoping reason would prevail and a "political solution" somehow would prevail must be contemplating "What if anything could have been done prior to prevent this chemical attack from occuring."And in the debate on what and where our national interests lie as applicable to international law, I think we're about to find out what folks intend to do to prevent the next one from occuring....and the next....and the next.

For the attacks in fact place the entire distribution network for vital humanitarian aid at risk.

Which if in fact were to break down would lead to famine and disease running rampant as well as al-quaida and Assad's regime.

Someone was asking the other day, "What would MLK say today?" (about human rights progress) and I remember years ago one of his associates and friend suggesting he would have hasd a fair amount to say on the international stage as well.
I wouldn't want to put words to what his thoughts on Syria might be presently.

I don't know what all the folks on the front lines of preventing genocide would think about this either, but for myself I think what you'all are treating the symtoms of can't be called anything less, for mear "crimes against humanity" on an individual case by case basis don't nearly cut the mustard in adequate definition of the whole of this international catastrophe...and yeah, it's well beyond the "crisis" stage at this point too...

Not that folks haven't tried, or poured resources into the gap to adress the needs of people on the move, but there's so many that neigboring countries will have to start bussing folks across their country to their neighbors border to relive strain on their infrastructure and ability to cope with the influx...which gets me back to an idea I posted a few years back on Dipnote, in which the world's air carriers donated a few good pilots and planes to help move people "to the aid" (proper housing, food, medical attention, and above all safety) internationally as a project conducted by those among the whole of the family of nations willing to take the words inscribed on the statue of liberrty and put them into practical implementation so that a displaced person and family have "safe haven" ...and this is going to require a lot of nations to modify their existing immigration rules in order to meet the humanitarian need.

Especially if the presently implemented framework of delivery gets interupted.

Talk about a "public/private partnership"? Well for starters I would suggest everyone from the public willing to..donate their "frequent flyer miles" to the cause, and maybe we'll get some action on the idea if governments are willing to take folks in to relieve the pressure on Syria's neighbors ...en mass.

Give folks a one year renuable working visa until it's safe for them to return home, and I think the international community would do a great deal to help fols traumatized by their experience find some normalcy in their lives again faster than if they are all crowded together by the hundreds of thousands in a tent city that rife with crime and exploitation on every level, and is vulnerable to attack.

And I just want to say to the Secretary personally here that if folks are debating what our "mission parameters" are to be, should the President decide force is necessary...well that one's simple and completely legal...and that's to ensure the safety and well being of an entire population....which I believe entails no less that the complete elimination of Assad's ability to wage war on any level...period. And of course along with that entails his removal from power and a date with the Hauge.

I heard the Russian's pathetic attempt to discredit the premis of intervention, tantamount only to offering political cover to a genecidal maniac's regime at accessory by material support to his crimes ongoing...I'd offer fair prediction that if such continues, I'd expect there to be acountability held in the Hauge for both Russia, and Iran as well.

Let me rephrase this,,,that when Putin looks in the mirror of his legacy in power, Assad's reflection will be staring back at him.

And the Russian people will have the last word on that.

 That the ayatollah's attempt to create the apocalyptic conditions for the return of the mahdi will be revealed as a charletan's bid for meglomania dreams to come true...and folks put a fast stop to the nightmare he's helped create.

Lastly, I'd be remis if I didn't suggest to the honorable Secretary, a humble premis to put a lot of international aid workers out of a job for lack of a crisis to attend to.

That's simply to craft a 21st century foreign policy designed to ban dictatorships , tyrants , and fanatical religious extremists with maleveolent intent from the face of the planet, ASAP.

I'm not suggesting it will be a "simple" cookie cutter policy that comes forth from such a simple concept, but if you can succeeed in doing so, future generations might just have a shot at having a better world to raise their children in.



Martin H.
United Kingdom
August 30, 2013
Great post, i think i'm going to do a follow up on my blog Martin Harris


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