WORLD HUMANITARIAN DAY 19 AUGUST 2011
Remembering those who made sacrifices to save the lives of others
The General Assembly of the United Nations has designated 19 August as World Humanitarian Day. The day acknowledges and pays tribute to the 22 humanitarian staff that tragically lost their lives in Iraq in the massive bomb attack on the Baghdad Headquarters of the United Nations in 2003. It also honors all other humanitarian aid workers throughout the world who have lost their lives and safety in the aid of others, and those who continue to carry on this noble task and save the lives of others who suffer from natural catastrophes, wars and pestilence.
The word humanitarian is all about ‘people helping people’ without prejudice, but rather with willing hearts, care and compassion, and without expecting reward in return. All around the world humanitarian workers help survivors of wars and natural catastrophes regardless of their race, nationality, religious or political beliefs.
Every year natural disasters and armed conflict affect millions of lives around the world, and often cause massive death and destruction. We constantly see and hear in the news of world disasters, such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand and the current drought in the Horn of Africa. In 2011 in Papua New Guinea the Gulf, Madang, East and West New Britain and Central provinces suffered from severe flooding that affected many people and caused human suffering. The cholera outbreak has also claimed hundreds of lives in Morobe, Madang, East Sepik, National Capital District, Central, Milne Bay, Gulf, Western provinces and the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.
People affected by natural disasters and conflicts are always in great need of immediate and long-term assistance to get on with the process of recovering their livelihoods. They need more than comforting words - they need food, access to clean water, basic health services, a place for their kids to be educated, and the tools to help them quickly restore normalcy.
It is disheartening that, in some situations, humanitarian workers are victimized for the work they do helping people who need basic aid. Sometimes, they are killed accidentally together with the people they were helping, but other times they are directly targeted, and this trend is on the rise around the world.
Whatever the reasons, the level of threats and number of deliberate attacks on aid organizations - our people, equipments and facilities - have risen dramatically. In 2010 alone, 242 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped and the loss of assets through violence and rose.
Conflict dynamics are changing. While more and more people count on aid workers for their survival, getting that aid to people is, in some situations, becoming much more complicated.
Humanitarian assistance is manipulated by groups involved in conflict, or aid workers are prevented from delivering aid because one group or another wants to exert control.
Despite these dangers, humanitarian workers remain committed to meeting the needs of people and to saving lives.
We remember those who have served in emergencies in PNG in the past and appreciate their tireless efforts. Many of them have sacrificed being with their families and loved ones to serve in humanitarian duties during the twin volcano eruptions in Rabaul in 1994, the drought in 1997, the Aitape tsunami in 1998, and the civil conflict in Bougainville and many other incidences over the past 10 years, which have had immensurable effects on homes, properties and the lives of Papua New Guineans throughout the country.
Today, we recognize the achievement of humanitarian workers and the diversity of where they work and what they do. Making sure those humanitarian workers can access the people they are trying to help, while ensuring that those workers are protected and respected for what they do, must remain a priority. Helping those in positions of power to understand the basic principles which underline humanitarian work, and that these principles are founded in international humanitarian law, must continue and intensify.
Let us all acknowledge, respect and support our humanitarian aid workers, as they play a very important role in our society and world. They save lives and help give others hope in times of adversity and the chance to live and enjoy life thereafter.