FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Seven years ago, a truck bomb exploded beneath the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq, killing 22 people, including the UN envoy, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and three American civilians. On this second annual World Humanitarian Day, the United States remembers the victims of the Canal Hotel bombing and others like them: citizens who have given their expertise, devotion, and, all too often, their lives providing relief for the suffering. We also recognize the growing depth and complexity of humanitarian challenges and honor the efforts of today’s brave humanitarians to meet them. On this day of remembrance, we call upon all nations and parties to assist and protect the individuals who work to provide humanitarian relief, wherever it is needed.
Today in Pakistan’s flood-ravaged regions, more than 14 million people urgently need help. The United States has already provided approximately $90 million to assist Pakistanis in harm’s way. U.S. helicopters have evacuated 5,912 people and delivered 717,713 pounds of relief supplies. Still, the scale of the catastrophe defies imagination; it requires the efforts of countless humanitarians and aid organizations to assist the homeless, the hungry, and the sick. Cash contributions help these organizations meet the needs of humanitarians on the ground, and can be transferred quickly. Texting the word “SWAT” to 50555 directs a $10 donation to the UN Refugee Agency for tents and emergency aid to displaced families. At www.interaction.org, visitors may access a list of organizations accepting cash donations for flood relief.
On World Humanitarian Day, the United States also recognizes the efforts of aid workers in Haiti, including those who tragically lost their lives in January’s earthquake. At once, the disaster devastated Haiti’s fragile foundations and killed many people who were best qualified to help Haitians rebuild. The expertise of the humanitarians there is indispensable. We grieve with the families of those who were lost.
Across the world this year, aid workers risked great danger by responding to environmental disaster. But the United States also notes with profound alarm the rise in premeditated violence targeting aid workers – including the recent murder of ten NGO workers, six of them Americans, by the Taliban in Northern Afghanistan. Acts such as these shock the conscience and further energize efforts to defeat violent extremism, but their numbers continue to rise: from 65 victims of serious security incidents in 1999, for example, to 278 victims in 2009. In light of these terrible acts, we condemn the persistence of insidious rhetoric by political actors who portray aid workers as outsiders representing foreign interests, governments, and ideologies. As the United Nations has noted, most humanitarians come from the countries in which they work. They are inspired by the principle of impartiality that guides all aid work, and come from a variety of nationalities, ethnicities, and religious communities. We join the global community in rejecting attacks on humanitarians, and rededicating ourselves to ensuring that aid can be delivered without fear.
Assistance to humanitarians is both a moral issue and a practical imperative for global security. Yet even when aid workers are buttressed by supportive national governments and parties to conflict, their work carries grave risks. Amid flood waters in Pakistan, humanitarians are called to address hardship on a scale that is nearly without precedent, and serve bravely despite facing the very same dangers themselves. On this and all days, we are grateful for their work and we honor their enduring pursuit of security, dignity, and hope for all people.
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