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1st World humanitarian day marked

afrol News, 19 August - Today marks the first ever World Humanitarian Day which is being observed as attacks against humanitarian workers have reached record levels.

According to the UN systems, humanitarian workers are the world’s ‘firemen’ and staff at the World Food Programme – the planet’s largest humanitarian agency – are regularly among the first to feel the heat.

WFP and other humanitarian workers often find themselves heading into dangerous areas rather than away from them, because if they don’t, people may die, children will go hungry, refugees will remain homeless and the ill and injured will languish untreated, the UN said in a statement today.

It continued that it is not overly dramatic to say that humanitarians risk their lives to save others, although all possible security precautions are taken. Many work in countries torn apart by conflict. On Sunday, guards at a WFP compound in southern Somalia repulsed an attack by gunmen. On Tuesday, rockets and bombs hit the Afghan capital, Kabul, where WFP runs a number of recovery and rehabilitation programmes.

WFP employees also operate on the frontlines in other violent areas such as Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Colombia.

Last year, 260 humanitarian aid workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks. This toll is the highest on record. Ten years earlier, in 1998, the number was 69, the WFP has said.

Of 122 humanitarian workers who were killed on the job last year, 14 were drivers delivering WFP food assistance in Somalia and Sudan. A further 26 WFP staff were wounded and 44 were abducted or detained in the line of duty, the agency said.

In January this year, two WFP food monitors were murdered in Somalia, and in June two WFP staff were injured in a bomb blast at the Pearl Continental Hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan – an attack that killed 16 people.

This year, August 19 marks the first-ever World Humanitarian Day. It was launched by the United Nations General Assembly to honour humanitarian staff who lost their lives as well as to raise public awareness about humanitarian assistance worldwide.

Meanwhile, the European Commission has also sent a strong message in commemoration of World Humanitarian Day.

“The day aims to honour humanitarian workers who have lost their lives or been injured in the course of their work. The European Commission, through its Humanitarian Aid department (ECHO), has staff permanently present in crisis spots around the world. ECHO works closely with partner relief organisations like specialised UN agencies, the Red Cross/Red Crescent movement and non-governmental organisations. Together they ensure the delivery of relief to civilian populations throughout the world in an impartial and non-discriminatory way. But humanitarian access and the security of relief workers is increasingly at risk,” the commission said in a statement.

Karel De Gucht, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, said: "World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity to honour the fallen humanitarian heroes - those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service. It is also a chance to acknowledge the vital work of our humanitarian staff in often harsh conditions and to draw attention to the urgent humanitarian needs worldwide, whether in Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Sudan or one of the many other crisis zones."

He added: "My message is simple: Don't harm civilians and the humanitarian aid workers who try to help them. The principles and values of humanitarian aid – humanity, independence, neutrality and impartiality – should protect relief workers and enable them to operate freely to tackle suffering around the world."

The European Commission is one of the biggest sources of humanitarian aid in the world. In 2008, it provided almost 1 billion euros (€937 M) in humanitarian programmes in more than 70 countries.

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