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22 August 2012

World Humanitarian Day 2012: I Was Here

The World Humanitarian Day (WHD) is observed each year on 19 August in memory of the 2003 attacks on the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad. The 2012 edition of WHD was celebrated worldwide, and involved a large-scale social media campaign, entitled I Was Here.

The Day honours those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service and those who continue to bring assistance and relief to millions, in addition to drawing attention to humanitarian needs worldwide and the importance of international cooperation in meeting those needs. It is a day to celebrate “people helping people.”

The 2012 campaign I Was Here aims to engage one billion people through social media so that “they can pledge a humanitarian action, however big or small, and share their individual actions with others through an interactive website.” Organized by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the campaign is supported by US performing artist Beyoncé Knowles, who along with songwriter Diane Warren, donated the “I Was Here” song to the campaign. Ms. Knowles recently filmed a video clip for the song at the General Assembly Hall at UN Headquarters in New York, and spoke about the song’s significance in a joint interview with journalist Anderson Cooper and the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos. The music video premiered on 19 August, on large-screen displays in Geneva, Dubai, New York and other locations.

In the spirit of “people helping people,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared that the World Humanitarian Day initiative “is the best way to honour the many fallen aid workers we mourn today.” Jan Eliasson, UN Deputy Secretary-General presided over the WHD ceremonies in New York on behalf of Ban Ki-moon, adding that the celebrations would “also honour the many unsung heroes who carry on the humanitarian mission of their fallen colleagues. These brave individuals prove that a bullet or a bomb can never kill the human spirit of solidarity.”

Mark Bowden, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Somalia, praised the dedication of humanitarian workers and called on all parties to allow unrestricted humanitarian access to those in need. He added that aid workers risk their lives daily when doing their jobs. “The dangers are very real. Since the last World Humanitarian day, 19 aid workers were killed and eight others kidnapped in Somalia, four of whom remain in captivity,” Mr. Bowden stressed.

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Ertharin Cousin, also commemorated World Humanitarian Day. As the world’s largest humanitarian agency, the WFP lost 12 staff members, contractors and partner staff while working on the frontlines of hunger in Somalia, Sudan, Haiti, South Sudan, and Côte d’Ivoire in the past year. “It is unacceptable that humanitarian workers should face physical violence, intimidation, attacks and even death in their daily struggle to help the world’s most vulnerable,” Ms. Cousin urged.

The I Was Here campaign was launched by OCHA on 2 August, and the number of participants soared upon the release of the music video. On the morning of 19 August, more than one billion messages were shared on the interactive platform. In the spirit of WHD, OCHA also invited professional aid workers to share stories about individuals whose actions have inspired them in times of crisis. These personal stories can be read below:

WHD: Life and death in Tsunami-hit Indonesia

WHD: Support through sport

WHD: Helping to build South Sudan’s healthcare system

Photo credit: UN.org

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