In commemoration of World Humanitarian Day, international agencies are paying tribute to the thousands of humanitarian workers who have lost their lives or been injured in the line of duty.
In December 2008, the U.N. General Assembly established World Humanitarian Day on August 19 in memory of the terrorist attack on U.N. headquarters in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad in 2003. Twenty-two U.N. staff members were killed including mission chief, Sergio Vierra de Mello.
U.N. chief spokesman in Geneva, Ahmad Fawzi, was de Mello’s press secretary. That day is seared in his memory.
“It was the beginning of a downward spiral in terms of U.N. protection and U.N. humanitarian work where we realized that we had become a target of terrorism,” he recalled.
Since then, attacks against humanitarian workers responding to emergencies have increased and become all too commonplace.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is launching a campaign to draw attention to continued attacks on health care workers and health facilities.
WHO reports 603 health care workers were killed and 958 injured in direct attacks in 32 countries in 2014 alone.
Rudi Coninx, Coordinator of WHOs Department of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response, said health care workers and facilities are under regular and constant attack in areas of conflict.
“Just recently, in Yemen, for example, 30 hospitals have been attacked, 14 health care workers have been injured, five of them have been killed. But, it is not only in Yemen—in Syria, in Iraq, in Central African Republic, in Ukraine, in South Sudan today hospitals are attacked and health care workers risk their lives to do what health care workers do—provide services, provide health to people,” he explained. “These attacks must stop.”
But, it is not only in areas of conflict where the lives of health care workers are at risk. WHO notes in West Africa, more than half of the 875 health workers infected with Ebola have died. Health workers were among several people killed by villagers in Guinea while trying to raise awareness about this deadly disease.
The number of polio cases globally has been reduced by 99 percent. But, this achievement has come at a great cost. WHO reports more than 100 health workers have been attacked trying to eradicate polio. Thirty-two have been killed in Pakistan while trying to provide vaccines to young children at risk of contracting this crippling disease.