Why We Commemorate World Humanitarian Day

3 minutes read time
PRM’s Regional Refugee Coordinator learns to make traditional baskets from Burundian refugees participating in a PRM-funded International Rescue Committee program focused on income and sustainable livelihoods.
PRM’s Regional Refugee Coordinator learns to make traditional baskets from Burundian refugees participating in a PRM-funded International Rescue Committee program focused on income and sustainable livelihoods.

Why We Commemorate World Humanitarian Day

August 19 marked World Humanitarian Day.  At first glance, it might sound like this was another ‘ordinary’ commemoration in the international community.  However, this date symbolizes anything but the ordinary.  As Department of State Spokesperson Heather Nauert said last week, this is a time to recognize the immense contributions of aid workers who have lost their lives to protect the world’s most vulnerable people. 

This year’s WHD campaign is #NotATarget, exposing the massive toll that conflict is taking on citizens’ lives and that civilians caught in conflict are #NotATarget. 

When aid workers selflessly stepped forward to meet these growing challenges in 2016, nearly 300 were killed, injured, or kidnapped.  Unfortunately, we know that the number is only rising in 2017, as aid workers attempt to address some of the most challenging situations in our history.  Saving lives is growing harder as crises and conflicts grow in complexity and strain scarce resources.  Violations of international law put aid workers in grave danger. 

The numbers tell a dire story: An unprecedented 141.1 million people across 37 countries are in immediate need of assistance.  Just this week, the United Nations confirmed that the number of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda has topped one million, as the conflict in South Sudan has created the world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.  And yet at great personal risk, humanitarian workers continue to deliver aid to those in greatest need.    

A PRM-funded Handicap International team provides assistance and care to a refugee.

The United States has a long and distinguished history of helping vulnerable people throughout the world.  U.S. and humanitarian partners are responding to crises around the world, providing lifesaving assistance to some of the world’s most vulnerable citizens.  In FY 2016, the United States, as the world’s leading humanitarian donor, contributed more than $7 billion to humanitarian efforts globally.  Funding supports humanitarian relief activities ranging from providing food, water, sanitation, education, and medical care to refugees and victims of conflict.  The United States continues to call on other donors to contribute to these efforts.

This World Humanitarian Day, we remain committed to saving lives and recognizing the extraordinary service of all humanitarian heroes, including our brave aid workers and partners on the ground.

About the Author: Simon Henshaw is the acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. 

Editor's note: Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.com.