FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Each August 19, I remember with sadness the great humanitarian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, whose violent death in Baghdad eleven years ago, alongside 21 others, prompted the UN to create World Humanitarian Day. Sergio was a state-builder, a charmer, a crack problem solver, and one who believed that there was no higher calling than seeking to improve the lives of those in desperate situations.
On World Humanitarian Day, as we remember the 22 people killed in the monstrous 2003 terrorist attack on UN Headquarters in Iraq, we commemorate the courageous lives of all humanitarians who have died around the world trying to bring food, shelter, medicine, and peace to broken places. Overall, 155 relief workers were killed, 171 injured, and 134 kidnapped worldwide last year. The threat to humanitarian workers remains all too real, and the United States condemns these despicable attacks.
The bravery of humanitarian workers is awe-inspiring. Despite continued attacks against them, aid workers in the Central African Republic (CAR) have expanded their efforts. Today, approximately 100 relief and development organizations are operating in CAR to provide life-saving services, twice as many organizations as in December 2013. In West Africa, Sheik Humarr Khan – Sierra Leone’s top Ebola doctor – died from the disease he spent his life battling, and aid workers every day navigate the choice between abandoning their patients amidst the worst Ebola epidemic in human history, or exposing themselves to grave risk. In South Sudan, at least 6 humanitarian workers were killed earlier this month in Maban Country, reportedly on ethnic grounds. And in Syria, 62 people have been killed trying to reach the 10.8 million Syrians in desperate need.
The amount of global humanitarian assistance provided in 2013 was the highest ever at $22 billion, a reflection of the international community’s commitment to helping those most in need, but also an indication of the growing number of crises around the world. As of December 2013, more than 33 million people were internally displaced by conflict and violence, also the highest figure ever recorded.
In response to these acute needs, and notwithstanding the well-known risks, humanitarian workers continue to run toward places others are fleeing in an effort to do all they can to improve and save lives. They deserve our utmost respect and our unconditional support.
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