On 19 August 2003, a bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, killed 22 humanitarian aid workers, including the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Five years later, the General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 19 August as World Humanitarian Day (WHD).
The Canal Hotel bomb attack was a suicide truck bombing in Baghdad, Iraq, in the afternoon of August 19, 2003. It killed 22 people, including the United Nations’ Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and wounded over 100, including human rights lawyer and political activist Dr. Amin Mekki Medani. The blast targeted the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq created just five days earlier. The United Nations had used the hotel as its headquarters in Iraq since the early 1990s.
Although the attack on the Canal Hotel targeted the humanitarian community, ordinary Iraqis were not spared either: the attack was only a prelude to the terror that would engulf Iraq and claim countless victims in the following years.
I still remember the horrific incident of the twin-car bomb attack on our office on 20 June 2010 that had caused the loss of life of several security guards who were manning the gates and guarding the office standing near the wall encompassing the building.
Each year, WHD focuses on a theme, bringing together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers. The day aims to draw attention to the selfless service of tens of thousands of volunteers who give immediate medical care, food, shelter, and protection to people during crises.
This year, the highlight is on the immediate human cost of the climate crisis by pressuring world leaders to take meaningful climate action for the world’s most vulnerable people.
There is a saying that goes: It takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a village to support a person in a humanitarian crisis. With record-high humanitarian needs around the world, this year’s WHD builds on this metaphor of collective endeavour to grow global appreciation of humanitarian work.
Whenever and wherever people are in crisis, others help them. From the affected people themselves — always first to respond when disaster strikes — to the global community that supports them as they recover, they come together to ease suffering and bring hope. Because, as the saying goes: It takes a village to support people in crisis.
As wars, disasters and epidemics affect millions of people every year, a broad range of healthcare workers is central to humanitarian action. For affected communities, these doctors, nurses, midwives, nutrition experts and other health workers are often their first and only link to essential health services during crises.
“It is in your hands, to make a better world for all who live in it.”Nelson Mandela
They work in field hospitals following natural disasters, in clinics set up in camps for displaced people, or in treatment centres during infectious-disease outbreaks. Healthcare workers often come from crisis-affected communities themselves, providing neonatal, reproductive and pediatric services along with critical primary health care.
They travel to hard-to-reach communities where medical services are lacking, and they stay behind to care for people in conflict zones and ensure health services are available to all, particularly vulnerable people including women, girls, children, people with disabilities and the elderly.
According to the UN estimates, 274 million people will need humanitarian assistance and protection in 2022. This is a significant increase from 2021 when 235 million received humanitarian assistance.