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Powered by, one of the most popular daily English language newspapers in the United Arab Emirates.

UN day commemorates humanitarians

08/18/2009 11:10 PM

Dubai: In recognition to humanitarian work globally, the United Nations has dedicated August 19 to commemorate and celebrate aid workers, of which more than 700 have lost their lives during the past ten years.

"It is, above all, a day on which we renew our commitment to help vulnerable, voiceless and marginalised people wherever they may be. That is the abiding mission of the humanitarian community," said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"This is also a day on which we pay tribute to the legions of heroic humanitarian personnel. These men and women come from many backgrounds. But they share a conviction that one person's suffering is everyone's responsibility."

Humanitarian aid work desperately needs to be redefined and given back its true meaning if it is to have a successful future that benefits men, women and children in need all over the world, said a Dubai-based humanitarian.

Due to misconceptions about what field staff in conflict zones really do, more aid-workers than ever before are being targeted by extremists and armed groups.

The inaugural World Humanitarian Day is in part dedicated to the memory of all those aid workers who have lost their lives while bringing assistance to others. On August 19, 2003, 22 dedicated aid workers were killed in the Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad. Thousands more have endured injury, kidnapping, attacks, hijacking, robbery and rape.

Dubai hosts several humanitarian organisations such as Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), World Food Programme or Unicef and has become a logistical hub from which crises can be reached quickly.

William Vannier, 33, from France is the UAE Supply Unit Manager for Medecins Sans Frontieres and has been based in the UAE for nine months. His career with MSF started after the 2004 tsunami that ravaged parts of Asia. I sent a donation to MSF for the victims and within a few days I received a message from them that they had collected enough funds for the crisis, but did I want the money to go towards another crisis? I was very impressed with their honesty, even though they were lambasted by other organisations for announcing it, said Vannier.

Two years later he was recruited by MSF and sent on his first three-month field placement to a small frontier town in Chad called Adre, on the Darfur border.

He has also worked in West Africa and Gaza.

Present in conflict areas

The first World Humanitarian Day celebrates aid workers that continue to work hard to deliver assistance in countries of ongoing conflict despite the risks, in many cases on our doorstep, such as Iraq and the occupied Palestinian territory.

They are working in Afghanistan, Western Sudan, and Darfur. As fighting escalated in the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan, more than two million people were forced to flee their homes, and a 2007/8 assessment found that some 7.4 million Afghans were unable to obtain their minimum food requirements.

Establishments in the UAE

The humanitarian aid establishments in the UAE, among others are the UAE Red Crescent Society, Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charity Establishment, International Humanitarian City, Human Appeal International, Sharjah Charity Association, Welfare Association Fujairah, Bait El Khair, Al Ehsan Centre and Sharjah Charity House.

Have your say
How important do you think this day is in recognising humanitarian efforts around the world? Would you like to be involved in humanitarian work? How? Tell us at or fill in the comments form below.

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