GENEVA – Humanitarian aid workers help millions of people around the world each day. To celebrate their achievements and commemorate those who died helping others, World Humanitarian Day was celebrated worldwide on 19 August, and more particularly in Geneva, the world’s so-called humanitarian capital.
As part of Geneva’s international humanitarian community, UNFPA joined several organizations in events across the city to remind people of the many sacrifices humanitarian workers have had to make in the line of duty. Each year, humanitarian workers die saving lives and helping others. In 2010, one of the most violent years ever for the aid community, 242 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped. In 2000, by contrast, there were 91 victims of violence. At least 780 aid workers have been killed in the past decade.
Humanitarian work has many facets and one of these is sexual and reproductive health. Dr Wilma Doedens, Technical Expert with UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Branch, spoke at a high-level panel on “How to deal with major humanitarian crises: the case of Somalia”.
“UNFPA works with partner organizations to ensure that women and young girls who are affected by disasters have access to reproductive health care,” she said. “Out of the 3.7 million people affected by the crisis in Somalia, more than 127,000 women are pregnant and over 13,000 women will deliver babies each month.”
Pregnant women need extra calories and micronutrients, and are often too frail to walk the long distances required to reach health care. Once there, they may not even be able to afford health services. Although humanitarian workers have no access to most of the affected regions in Somalia, UNPFA and its partners working in health care have found a way to get priority reproductive health care to these people.
“Although our staff cannot travel to the region, Somali midwives and doctors can travel and come out of the unsafe areas into the safer zones, where we can then meet them,” said Dr Doedens. “While most of UNFPA’s Somalia Office staff is based in Kenya, our reproductive health coordinator travels to accessible cities in Somalia for two weeks at a time every few months to train and resupply doctors and midwives from South and South-Central regions.” The theme of this year’s Day was ‘People Helping People.’
Mar Jubero, UNFPA, is explaining how to help a baby breath after delivery to interested participants at the "Humanitarian Village" in Geneva. Photo©UNFPA
UNFPA’s humanitarian staff also participated in the Geneva event’s “Humanitarian Village”, an exhibition with dozens of stands manned by UN and NGO groups. They answered questions and shared their experiences in the field with those keen to understand their motivation, work and responsibilities, while explaining why it is so important to help in an emergency.
When emergencies strike, life can change in an instant. Mar Jubero, Programme Officer with UNFPA’s Humanitarian Response Branch in Geneva, also took part in the event. “In times of crisis, pregnancy-related deaths and sexual violence increase. Reproductive health services - including antenatal care, , and emergency obstetric care - often become unavailable. Many women lose access to family planning services, exposing them to unwanted pregnancy in dangerous conditions,” she said.
The United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 19 August as World Humanitarian Day three years ago to commemorate the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad. The bombing claimed the lives of 22 UN staff members, including the UN’s top envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and wounded more than 150 people.
The events in Geneva took place under the leadership of the Sergio Vieira de Mello Foundation and in collaboration with the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, with the support of Geneva authorities.