World Humanitarian Day is observed every year on August 19 to pay tribute to humanitarian workers killed and injured in the course of their work, and to honour all aid and health workers who continue, despite the odds, to provide life-saving support and protection to people most in need.
The day was designated in memory of the August 19, 2003, bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 22 people, including the chief humanitarian in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. In 2009, the UN General Assembly formalized the day as World Humanitarian Day. We must remember that this day honours people who have dedicated their lives to humanitarian causes. It is also a day of remembrance for all lives that have been sacrificed for the benefit of humanity.
Every year a new theme is chosen to commemorate the day. This year, the theme was “The Human Race”, and it focused on the need for global action to combat climate change while standing in solidarity with vulnerable populations around the world. The United Nations urged people, especially social media users, to mark the day by expressing solidarity with vulnerable populations.
People around the world celebrated the day by showing support and raising awareness among friends and family through messages, wishes and quotes. They marked the day by doing some good for the world. Change starts with the efforts of one person and is followed by others who are inspired. On World Humanitarian Day, experts urged people to strive to be the person to inspire change for the good of others.
Nelson Mandela once said: “Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes, it falls on a generation to be great. You can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.” Nelson Mandela’s message is still in tune with the spirit of World Humanitarian Day.
In the world of today, climate calamity is the biggest challenge to humanity and its future survival. On World Humanitarian Day, experts warned people to prepare better for the escalating disasters and displacements that the climate crisis is creating. This crisis is particularly damaging for the health and wellbeing of women and girls.
According to an estimate, 80 percent of disaster-related displacements worldwide have occurred in the Asia-Pacific region over the past decade. Also, women and girls make up more than half of the displaced population globally. Globally, there were 300 extreme weather events triggered by natural hazards in 2019. This was six times the number of disasters since the 1970s. In 2018, climate and weather-related disasters caused 108 million people to need life-saving assistance.
The climate crisis has been exacerbated by the havoc caused by the COVID-19 pandemic which has adversely affected human rights and impeded progress towards Sustainable Development Goals, including goal 3 on good health and well-being and goal 5 on gender equality.
In Asia and the Pacific, a region already reeling under the climate crisis, we need to do more in resilience building at the national, institutional, community and individual levels. This is important to achieve sustainable development and realise the rights for women and young people of all nations and regions. Also, engaging and empowering women and young people in climate action is a prerequisite for more just, equitable, sustainable and climate-resilient societies.
Needless to say, civil society organisations have a key role to play in sharing their skills and knowledge with governments and in shaping gender responsive and inclusive climate policies. Beyond the network of committed government and civil society leaders, the United Nations Population Fund brings decades of experience, innovations and best practice to the discussion on climate change. In the Pacific, for example, it is supporting young people’s leadership in climate action to better safeguard the future for the youth of today. In the Maldives, it is working with women to voice issues that matter to them, weaving gender equality within the fabric of climate policy and in Bangladesh, it supports national disaster preparedness efforts by advocating for a gender-inclusive and transformative approach including female frontline volunteers. The lessons we have learned from the COVID-19 crisis is that we all must work together for common good.
Humanity is at a turning point in history. Women, men and young people of all backgrounds are involved in shaping climate policies, strengthening preparedness or responding to disasters. They are saving lives and improving the health and well-being of people facing the threat of climate change. Let us pledge to hold together and save the earth from the looming disaster of climate change.