World Humanitarian Day

World Humanitarian Day, August 19, is a relatively new day of recognition.  It was designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008 to acknowledge and honour those courageous people who often face daunting challenges, even danger and death, in order to help others. The spirit of people helping people. International altruism and activism.  The date was chosen to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad , Iraq , when 22 UN staff were killed.

In today’s increasingly tumultuous world – with problems ranging from climate change to economic meltdowns to wars – humanitarian aid workers are active daily assisting millions of people no matter who they are or where they live.  They don’t exclusively respond to emergencies.  They also help communities rebuild their lives after crises and become more resilient; they act as advocates so that victims’ voices are heard, and try to build genuine peace in conflict areas.

According to the UN, humanitarian aid must be offered without discrimination based on nationality, social group, religion, sex, race, or other factors.  It is based on several founding principles, including humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.  Although aid workers reflect all cultures, ideologies, and backgrounds, they are united by their commitment to humanitarianism.

The theme of this year’s campaign is “I Was Here” – aimed at promoting the concept that anyone can help others anywhere.  It also promotes better international cooperation at a time when globalization has made the planet smaller and more interlinked.  Of course, Canadians must recognize, too, that the people being most negatively affected by contemporary problems are almost always the world’s poorest, most marginalized, and most vulnerable citizens.   Canadians must also realize that our humane international reputation is being steadily eroded by the Harper Conservatives abandonment of our past heroic peacekeeping role; our cruel treatment of desperate refugees; our cuts to development aid to the poorest countries, and more.  Make today a day when you commit to stopping the downward slide of Canada while celebrating the great generosity of many Canadians both here and overseas.