Protecting aid workers paramount: UN Official

NEW YORK -- As conflicts around the world continue to take a massive toll on people's lives, the top United Nations, UN, relief official stressed the importance of ensuring that the brave men and women, who risk their lives to help those in need, are not the target of harm themselves.

"The protection of aid workers is paramount," said Stephen O'Brien, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, in an interview with UN News ahead of this year's World Humanitarian Day.

The World Humanitarian Day, observed annually on 19th August, seeks to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives while conducting their humanitarian service and to rally support for people affected by crises worldwide. The day was designated by the UN General Assembly to coincide with the date of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, where 22 of its staff lost their lives.

Humanitarian partners are coming together this year under the "#NotATarget" campaign, to highlight the need to protect civilians affected by conflict, including humanitarian and medical workers.

"World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity for us to focus on protecting humanitarian aid workers, particularly in the medical field," O'Brien noted.

Humanitarian workers are currently operating in 40 countries around the world, often for many years, despite insufferable difficulties, he added.

"People place themselves at great risk to reach people in need in some of the most dangerous environments, and in protracted crises around the world," he stated.

Seven Syrian volunteer rescuers, known as the "White Helmets," were recently killed, and O'Brien acknowledged that such incidents are becoming all too common. "My heart grieves for the family and friends of those brave people, who gave the ultimate sacrifice to help others," he added.

Despite the difficulties and dangers, O'Brien stated that humanitarian work is moving forward "at every point."

"Member States, humanitarian aid workers and co-ordinators of humanitarian relief, all of us are continuing to apply strength, determination, courage and conviction," he further said. "There is no higher international public good than seeking to save lives and protect civilians caught up in crisis," he added.

The #NotATarget campaign followed the launch, earlier this year, of the UN Secretary-General's report on the protection of civilians, where he called for greater respect for international humanitarian and human rights law, and the protection of civilians.

According to the report, those who are most in need of urgent humanitarian assistance and protection are civilians in urban areas, such as children, victims of sexual violence, humanitarian workers, health workers, and forcibly displaced people.

O'Brien concluded that making a difference on the ground requires "physical will and relationships with players in all the various places," to get the necessary access to those in need.

Source: Emirates News Agency