World Humanitarian Day, which is today, is an opportunity to pay tribute to the men and women who work in difficult and sometimes dangerous conditions, dedicating their work and their lives to the service of humanity. They place themselves at greatest risk than the UN peacekeepers – they carry no guns but face as much danger. In 2010 there were 129 security incidents targeting humanitarian workers; 69 were killed, 86 were injured and 87 were kidnapped.
They are also the people risking their lives inside Somalia, where famine is raging today. When visiting the region recently, I had the opportunity to meet some of those remarkable individuals working on the front line to help those in the greatest need.
Among them was Maurice Kiboye, a programme manager for the European Union’s humanitarian partner COOPI in Doolow. He talked about the people who rely on his team for their very survival and how brave they were in the face of hunger and armed gangs. He also me told me that he can only do his work because the community would protect him: “we are there for them, so they are there for us”. His words go to the very essence of the theme of this year’s World Humanitarian Day, which is ‘People helping people’.
Over a billion people worldwide live in abject poverty. They are the most vulnerable to conflicts and disasters. Climate change and population growth will only make their lives harder and the task of the humanitarian community – more pressing. It can only be done thanks to aid workers such as Maurice and his team in Somalia. Theirs is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world but also one of the most valuable.
Humanitarian workers are humble but their achievements are not. Through their service and dedication, last year the European Commission touched the lives of 140 million people affected by conflicts and disasters around the world. It is to humanitarian workers and to our fellow European citizens who help fund their work that we owe a debt of gratitude.