UN honors aid workers around the world | Environment| All topics from climate change to conservation | DW | 19.08.2009
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UN honors aid workers around the world

The United Nations marked its first World Humanitarian Day with a tribute to relief workers who often risk their lives to deliver urgent aid in global hotspots, including over 100 aid workers who were killed last year.

Newly registered Sudanese from Darfur, Sudan set up their tents at a refugee camp in Bredjing, Chad, in August 2004

Lack of security in Darfur puts aid workers in danger

As explosions continue to claim the lives of civilians, aid workers and soldiers in conflict zones around the world, the United Nations on Wednesday honored the aid workers' efforts on the first World Humanitarian Day.

Last year, a record 260 humanitarian aid workers from different agencies and charities were victims of kidnappings and attacks, including 122 who were killed, according to the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The date was set to remember the 22 people, including the UN's envoy and human rights chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, killed on Aug. 19, 2003 in a truck bomb attack on the UN headquarters at the Canal Hotel in Baghdad.

Killing the helpers

Rubble from the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq

The Canal Hotel bombing killed 22 people in 2003

"The Canal Hotel bombing rocked the UN system to its core," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a tribute to Vieira de Mello, one of her predecessors.

"Killing those who are trying to help others is a particularly despicable crime, and one which all governments should join forces to prevent, and - when prevention fails - to punish," she added in a statement.

Attacks on aid workers have risen by 61 percent over the last three years, and the annual average is now almost three times higher than it was nine years ago, the UN said.

"The days are gone when driving in a white jeep with a humanitarian logo was a guarantee of safety. Today, aid has become a target," Jonathan Mitchell, CARE's emergency response director, said in a statement. "Just like you would never attack a hospital, you should never attack a humanitarian worker."

The increase in violence is blamed partly on a growth in aid operations in the most lawless parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Darfur and Somalia.

"All threats and attacks to aid workers are unacceptable," said UNICEF's Veronique Taveau. "The UN workers are there to help the people who need it, often women and children. These aid workers are there to ease hunger and to protect children and improve medical care."

Aid workers' dilemma

People fleeing a natural disaster in Goma

Aid workers know many will be affected, if they don't do their jobs

Despite having to work in crisis situations, many aid groups have said they are not having difficulty retaining their employees. Even after having to pass on the news that their colleagues had died in the Canal Hotel bombing, Elaine Caux of the the UN's High Commission for Refugees said she didn't consider quitting her job.

"It's a dilemma for aid workers, if we don't do our work there will be thousands of refugees and displaced people who might not survive, and at the same time you, of course, want to preserve your life," she said.

Pillay noted that the victims in Baghdad six years ago came from a variety of backgrounds and skills, but were all trying to contribute to rebuilding Iraq.

"Would they have succeeded, if the August 19 bomb had not exploded? Would the ensuing years of horrendous inter-ethnic strife, killing, rape and other forms of abuse that plagued Iraq have been mitigated or largely avoided?" she asked. "We shall never know."


Editor: Mark Mattox

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