Front Line Aid Workers Face Increasing Risks in Response to Unprecedented Humanitarian Crises

Aid Workers Action Against Hunger

The United Nations designated August 19th World Humanitarian Day to celebrate aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service. Action Against Hunger joins the UN and our humanitarian colleagues around the world today in paying tribute to the commitment and sacrifices of our front line staff working in challenging, unstable circumstances to save lives.

This year, we also urge world leaders to remember the United Nations Secretary General’s Agenda for Humanity report, published before the first-ever World Humanitarian Summit, held in May 2016. Action Against Hunger actively participated in the World Humanitarian Summit, and made bold commitments to leave no one behind, reshape aid, and contribute to safeguards to uphold humanitarian law and protect aid workers. Today, while we maintain our resolve to live up to those commitments, we cannot ignore the tremendous challenges that threaten the humanitarian community’s ability to deliver.

In 2015, the world witnessed the highest level of human suffering since the Second World War—and marked the highest number of people forcibly displaced within their own countries by violence or conflict ever recorded. We also witnessed an alarming increase of violations of international humanitarian law, and routine challenges to the safe, unimpeded access of humanitarian workers to populations in need. International humanitarian law and the core principles that guide humanitarian action—humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence—are under attack.

Violence against healthcare workers, hospitals and humanitarian health services has occurred with frightening frequency in the past several years: in fact, from 2012 to 2014, there were 2,398 incidents, according to a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross. It  has become an issue of growing global concern. Such attacks on health workers and health services in armed conflicts and other emergencies are deplorable and prevent vulnerable people from receiving emergency medical attention.

The alarming outbreak of violence in early July in South Sudan’s capital—during which humanitarian personnel and civilians were attacked by the armed forces in violation of protection principles afforded by international humanitarian law—is a dramatic example of the need for greater protection for civilians as well as aid workers. In particular, the widely reported assaults  on aid workers and civilians at the Terrain Hotel complex in Juba, South Sudan during the unrest in July are a stark reminder of the dangers we all face and the blatant impunity that exists in relation to crimes such as these.

The recent attack on a humanitarian convoy in northeast Nigeria’s Borno State is another deeply worrying signal of the increasing fragility of “humanitarian space” in armed conflicts. Attacks targeting aid workers have tripled over the past ten years. When aid workers are endangered or under attack, vulnerable people in crisis are deprived of help.

In May of 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit, Action Against Hunger called for the creation of a Special Rapporteur to the United Nations, dedicated to the protection of humanitarian workers—national staff in particular. Local humanitarian personnel, at the forefront of interventions in their home countries, are the victims of 83.6 percent of the overall attacks on aid workers.

Today, we urge world leaders to live up to their obligations to uphold international humanitarian law —and we urge all parties to conflict to respect the laws of war, respect humanitarian principles, and allow humanitarian actors to save lives and alleviate suffering. This week—as we observe World Humanitarian Day and pay tribute to the work of humanitarians around the world—we reaffirm our urgent call to action to world leaders to protect aid workers, share humanity, and leave no one behind.

Last year, Action Against Hunger’s global team of 6,500 humanitarians delivered assistance to and improved the lives of 14.9 million people in 47 countries.

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