World Humanitarian Day: The Plight of Aid Workers

Today is World Humanitarian Day, an international day established in 2003 to honor aid workers who dedicate themselves to improving the lives of others. But the day also reminds us of the 130 million people living in conflict settings today. Following the groundbreaking World Humanitarian Summit earlier this year, UN agencies and aid organizations are using this World Humanitarian Day to highlight the work that still remains to improve the world we live in. A big part of that work is protecting aid workers as they bring services to those who desperately need it.

Even though international law protects certain actors such as medical personnel and journalists in wartime from intentional targeting, humanitarian law considers most aid workers to be civilians. Even though civilians are not supposed to be targeted in war either, the reality is that civilians often bear the biggest brunt of armed conflict. But even as civilians were increasingly targeted, aid workers were often seen as off limits.

In the early 1990s, that started to change. Today, after decades of erosion in the following of the laws of war, aid workers and other humanitarians working in conflict zones find themselves frequently under threat. Attacks on hospitals and schools in places like Syria and Yemen are the most high profile examples of this threat, but humanitarians are at risk throughout the world.

To put this risk in context, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs created an infographic on violence against aid workers in 2015. Below are some of the numbers on just how aid workers find themselves threatened in their work.

whd attacks 2015

whd context attacks

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With an unprecedented number of people need, aid workers and other humanitarians are needed in the field now more than ever. Every attack on an aid worker is an attack on the ability of the wider international community to care for those who need assistance the most. This World Humanitarian Day the world celebrates the spirit of people who take on this risk, but also reminds us that there is far more work to be done.