They are out there, always, often the first people to reach. You have seen them feed malnourished children and starving people in the Horn of Africa. You have relied on their eyewitness accounts delivered on webcams as haggard, dazed faces revealed the real scale of Japan's tsunami and nuclear disaster. You have read about them delivering babies in crammed shelter camps in the flood-affected provinces of Pakistan. You have seen them extricate people alive from the debris of decimated Haiti.
The last few years have seen some of the most challenging catastrophes, natural disasters and conflicts. Nations have had their capacities and resources stretched to the limits and communities have endured tests of survival, sustenance and rebuilding lives. However, in the farthest corners of the world and among the most remote communities, aid-workers are reaching out to millions of people in need, every day.
Amid the turmoil of crises and the sheer challenge of reaching all who need help, aid workers are relentlessly raising the bar of humanitarian assistance the world over. They are saving lives in Ethiopia, protecting children in Afghanistan, giving job skills to youth in Egypt, registering births in Vietnam, providing clean drinking water in Colombia or advocating for girls' rights in Bangladesh. Cutting across boundaries of nations, religions and cultures - aid workers have become the common face of humanity.
Theirs is a growing force of dedicated people like Rene who treks for eight hours to access the indigenous tribes in the dense rainforests of Occidental Mindoro in the Philippines. It relies on the enthusiasm of community workers like Anubhav who improvises songs and drama to campaign against female foeticide in the villages of India's Uttar Pradesh. It is led by volunteers like 17-year-old Venance who helps ensure that other refugee children in Liberia's Grand Gedeh get education and are not lost to ruthless streets.
But aid-workers are not immune to the perils of extreme challenges they attempt to mitigate for others. Far from home, aid workers brave great dangers and work long hours in the most difficult conditions. They operate in areas which are often isolated, hostile and difficult. They are often at the frontline of calamity and conflict as they help people regardless of who they are and where they come from.
Over the past few years especially, the dangers involved in humanitarian work have increased rapidly. Aid organisations' staff, facilities and machinery have increasingly come under deliberate attacks. Aid workers now regularly face attacks and abduction. Over the last ten years, 780 aid workers have lost their lives in the line of duty. In 2010 alone, 242 aid workers were killed, injured or kidnapped. Many have lost their colleagues and loved ones.
As you read this, hundreds of aid workers are on the ground delivering relief in the Horn of Africa where over 12 million people are battling a catastrophic combination of conflict, drought and high food prices.
Today, as the United Nations celebrates the World Humanitarian Day to recognise the sacrifices and contributions of aid workers, it is important to emphasise that it is not political parties or nations but dedicated individuals who are doing the most on ground. They are working together as one human race so all people can live in safety and with dignity.
Behind those organisation badges, chapped lips, panda eyes and camp boots are untold stories of great human spirit and endeavour.
(On 19 August 2003, a bomb was detonated at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, killing 22 people. World Humanitarian Day is held on the anniversary of the attack.)
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