International Rescue Committee (IRC)

World Humanitarian Day: Commemorating the world’s most impossible job

On August 19th, one of the most difficult and dangerous professions in the world will be commemorated and celebrated. This is World Humanitarian Day. And it is devoted to the more than 200,000 humanitarian aid workers around the world who commit themselves to saving lives and reducing the suffering of people affected by disasters and wars.

Each day over 2,000 people die as a result of armed conflict – that’s more than one person killed every minute.

Many more are uprooted and displaced. One out of every 170 people on this planet is displaced as a result of war. Refugees and displaced people are the largest category of vulnerable people in the world.

They depend on humanitarian aid professionals for their lives and for their future. But it is an impossible and unrelenting call to action. I remember one of my colleagues telling me that the job of an aid worker reminded him of those trick birthday candles. You just can’t blow them out.

It is a cruel irony that at a time of the most monumental technological advances in the history of human civilization, we also have the greatest number of people who do not have enough food, water, medicine, and shelter.

Humanitarian aid professionals work in situations that simply should not exist.

And these crises have become increasingly dangerous as the rules of war seem to have suddenly changed. Of the world’s more than 25 armed conflicts, very few of these are fought by professional armies trained in the rules and conventions of war. These are not ideological confrontations but rather ruthless mercenaries fighting to grab power and control precious mineral resources. These are not war zones, these are crime scenes.

In 2008, more aid workers had been killed on the job than peacekeeping troops. Last year, over 270 aid workers were victims of deliberate violent attacks. Over 90 aid workers were kidnapped.

As professional aid workers, we used to think of ourselves as a protected species – safe from the gritty business of war. As it turns out, we are an endangered species.

According to on-the-job death rates, being a humanitarian aid worker is the fifth most dangerous civilian occupation. And among these professions, it is the only one where the cause of death is from deliberate and intentional violence.

The world demands a lot from its aid workers. And the future is sure to ask more of us. With the impending mega-trends of climate change, water shortages, urbanization, food scarcity, and global economic recession, our call to action is formidable.

I hope you will take a few minutes to watch this video about the undaunted work of humanitarian workers around the world:


If you know an aid worker, this is a good opportunity to send them a message of support and encouragement.

Please feel free to post your message of support for humanitarian workers around the world in the blog comments below, on the IRC Facebook page, or as a reply to @theIRC on Twitter.

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