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First World Humanitarian Day Commemorated

Wednesday is the first World Humanitarian Day. It's a time to honor international aid workers, who often risk their lives to help those in need.

For example, Somalia is one of the most dangerous places for aid workers. Fighting in the country between transitional government forces and Islamist militias has displaced hundreds of thousands and resulted in millions of people needing emergency assistance.

In Nairobi, Graham Farmer, the U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, spoke to VOA after issuing a statement on World Humanitarian Day.

"It's a chance to recognize humanitarian aid workers and particularly today those that have lost their life delivering assistance to people," he says.

He says it was on this date in 2003, that a bombing in Iraq's capital, Baghdad killed more than 20 people, most of them UN workers.

A most dangerous place

"Somalia is indeed one of the worst humanitarian disasters…in the world. The work today will be the same as it was yesterday and as we will continue tomorrow. It's just that today is an opportunity to recognize those people that are carrying out the work," he says.

Since January 2008, 42 aid workers have been killed in Somalia. Another 33 have been abducted by militants.

"Thirteen of them still remain in captivity, some of them since early 2008. And this again is an opportunity to appeal to the people holding them to let those people return to their families," he says.

Farmer's World Humanitarian Day statement says, "In Somalia, humanitarian space is shrinking at an alarming rate."

He says, "We've had increasing episodes where facilities and personnel have been attacked. In some cases we've had U.N. compounds entered and looted. And that makes it very difficult to then carryout operations in those areas, which is why we say the space is shrinking."

Farmer says the underlying principles of humanitarianism include humanity, impartiality and neutrality and independence. Asked why it's been difficult getting that message across to armed groups around the world, including Somalia, he says, "I wish we knew the answer to that one… That message just seemed difficult to accept by some people."

He adds, "It's a sad reflection that in 2008 there were more humanitarian aid workers killed than there were U.N. peacekeepers killed. Any loss of life should be regretted and should be worked against."