World Humanitarian Day is a United Nations holiday commemorated on August 19. It is a day to honor humanitarian personnel and recognize their efforts as aid workers during humanitarian world crises. It is also a day to remember those who lost their lives while in humanitarian missions. The day raises awareness about the crucial humanitarian work that is happening around the world, and how important it is that all countries come together to assist those in need during harder times.
The date was chosen to mark the tragic death of Sergio Viera de Mello, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq.
During the bombing of the United Nations Headquarters in Baghdad on August 19 2003, Sergio Vieira de Mello and 21 colleagues tragically lost their lives. Vieira de Mello had been a humanitarian worker for the United Nations for over 30 years. He had served in many challenging humanitarian crises across the world, helping victims of wars, raising awareness of their situations, and giving them a voice. He was a well respected humanitarian leader and the loss of his life shocked and upset many people.
In 2006, his family and friends created the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation with the aim of continuing his legacy of humanitarian aid work. The foundation also promotes dialogue between communities divided by conflict, so that peaceful resolutions can be achieved.
The Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation campaigned to make August 19 a day to honor Vieira de Mello, his colleagues, and ongoing humanitarian work. The idea received a lot of international support and so a resolution was made, co-sponsored by the Brazilian, French, Swiss and Japanese governments. In December 2008 the United Nations General Assembly officially established August 19 as World Humanitarian Day and it was observed for the first time in 2009.
What is Humanitarian Work?
Humanitarian Aides provide short-term logistical and material assistance to people who have been affected by natural disasters, famine, and wars. The goals of humanitarian work are first of all to save lives, help those who are suffering, and maintain human dignity.
Humanitarian help can be provided by local or international organizations, and reaches millions of people around the world. The lives of those people very often depend on humanitarian workers.
Humanitarian work is as crucial as it is dangerous, and many humanitarians risk their lives while providing help to those in need.
How World Humanitarian Day is Observed
Many organizations host events and distribute material with information about humanitarian work to make the public aware of the many crises happening around the globe and those risking their lives making a difference.
As with most UN special days, World Humanitarian Day has a different theme for every year. In 2011 the theme was People Helping People, and it encouraged everyone to take part in aid work. The 2012 theme was I Was Here, and inspired people to do something good for others. That particular campaign was helped by singer Beyonce, who made a music video for the theme, with the same name. The 2021 campaign was on the threat of climate change, focussing especially on the growing risks faced by the poor and vulnerable.
If you'd like to get more involved with humanitarian work there's no need to travel across the world to do so. Many people start by helping those in need in their own community. You can also show your support by donating to the international organizations that are doing the work in affected countries. The United Nations website is a great resource for those who want to help.