Today is World Humanitarian Day

National Yemen

Trond Jensen

By Trond Jensen, Head of UN OCHA Yemen.

Every year on 19 August, the world marks World Humanitarian Day in honour of aid workers, who have lost their lives in the line of duty. The day was designated by the General Assembly to coincide with the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq. That bombing claimed 22 lives.

This year, the day is being marked with a global campaign dubbed:  ‘The World Needs More Humanitarian Heroes’. It aims to draw global attention to the scope and scale of humanitarian crises facing communities around the world, and of the life-saving work of humanitarians in all corners of the globe. It is a day to celebrate the spirit that inspires humanitarian work around the globe.

A key aspect of the campaign this year is the creation of Messengers of Humanity – a community of global advocates that will be called upon to take action on major crises and events by sharing inspiring content on social networks. In the lead up to World Humanitarian Day on 19 August, thousands of engaged individuals are being recruited by OCHA online, asking them “to take action in the name of humanity”.

The Messengers of Humanity recruitment drive on social media was launched on 30 July. It was followed by the launch of a promo film on 1 August, a media teaser campaign to generate public awareness on 4 August, a Website launch; traditional and social media launch of WHD campaign and the distribution of videos highlighting the work of aid workers.

In Yemen, World Humanitarian Day is an opportunity to remember humanitarian workers, especially Yemeni nationals, who are doing a tremendous job of delivering critical life-saving assistance to people in need. In Amran, for example, humanitarian partners have distributed one-time assistance – mainly food and hygiene kits – to about 5,000 families who were displaced by recent conflict.

Currently, internally displaced persons appear to be returning to Amran in increasing numbers, though no overall estimate is currently available. As of 24 July, local people estimated that about half of IDPs had already returned. At the peak of the crisis, partners estimated that 45,000 people had been displaced. Even as they return, however, they continue to need assistance.

The scale of humanitarian needs in Yemen makes the country one of the largest humanitarian emergencies globally. The crisis is characterized by widespread insecurity, large-scale displacement, civil strife, political instability, chronic food shortages, a breakdown of social services, endemic poverty, migrant and refugee influxes.

Since 2012, the presence and access of UN and NGO partners has increased, along with an increase in the activities of organisations from the Gulf Region and increased involvement of Yemeni organisations in the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan.

The outlook for the humanitarian situation in 2014 and beyond remains precarious. Extreme poverty, volatile food and commodity prices and an increased cost of living will further reduce access to food, basic services and livelihoods for millions of Yemenis. This situation will be compounded by localized conflict and limited capacity of basic social services.

In 2014, humanitarian partners found that:

  • 14.7 million people need humanitarian assistance
  • 10.5 million people are food insecure
  • more than a million children under-5 are acutely malnourished
  • 13.1 million people have no access to safe water and adequate sanitation
  • 8.6 million people have no access to health services
  • 300,000 people are displaced in the north
  • 264,000 refugees live in Yemen.

The humanitarian strategy for the next two years is two-pronged. First, it aims to provide life-saving assistance to the most vulnerable Yemenis. Secondly, it aims to promote longer-term solutions to address vulnerability and reduce dependency on aid, laying the foundation for recovery and development that humanitarian action cannot deliver alone. To implement activities that meet the needs of 7.6 million most vulnerable people in Yemen in 2014, humanitarian partners require US$592 million.

By early August, only about 40 per cent of the required funding has been provided by donors. Yet new situations have emerged to compound the humanitarian situation, such as recent conflict in Amran, expulsion of thousands of Yemeni workers from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and increased numbers of migrants from the Horn of Africa. Among these groups, women, girls and boys are particularly vulnerable because of the lack of access to protection, education, health and economic opportunities.

There can be no sustainable transition in Yemen unless the basic needs of millions of the most vulnerable people are met. Funding the Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan will contribute not only to addressing human suffering but also to make the progress towards recovery sustainable. Humanitarian partners are working with Government to address key challenges, but can only achieve their best if they are well funded.

As we mark World Humanitarian Day, my heart goes out to all humanitarian workers in Yemen. It is a challenging situation to work in, with huge risks including possible kidnap. In 2013, there were at least 11 incidents involving humanitarian workers in Yemen including one kidnapping, two incidents of aggravated assault and three incidents of ambush or attack.

Indeed on this occasion, I would like to appeal for the release of colleagues in captivity.


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