World Humanitarian Day on August 19 honors humanitarian aid workers all over the world. Established by the UN in 2009, this day commemorates the anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Iraq. 22 people lost their lives, including the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Humanitarian aid workers provide life-saving assistance to suffering people all over the world. Those workers who live in conflict zones or in areas devastated by natural disasters are especially vulnerable. Anyone and everyone can be a humanitarian, so read on to learn more about the day and how you can help.
The day pays tribute to the thousands of humanitarian workers who gave their lives and suffered injuries in the course of their work. Did you know that at one point in 2021, 235 million people in 26 countries required humanitarian assistance? This is the day to honor all those workers who continue their service to provide support and protection to people in need. On one occasion of this holiday, people celebrated with the theme ‘Human Race’. This holiday is a commemoration, but it can also be exciting and fun!
When is World Humanitarian Day 2023?
Relief workers’ dedication and commitment to serving humanity is observed on World Humanitarian Day on August 19.
History of World Humanitarian Day
World Humanitarian Day is more than just a day that recognizes humanitarian workers who dedicate their lives working for humanitarian causes. It is a day to remind us that these are the people who make our life much easier and safer, and recognizes the efforts of aid workers who put their lives on the line to help affected people during times of global crisis.
The holiday was founded by the United Nations General Assembly in remembrance of the deaths of 22 U.N. aid workers, including Sérgio Vieira de Mello, in a bombing of the United Nations Baghdad headquarters in 2003. Sérgio was born and raised in Brazil and worked day and night for three decades to aid victims of armed conflict by bringing them relief and making sure their plight was heard globally. He also worked tirelessly to assemble the draft for the appointment of World Humanitarian Day. Creating awareness was an essential aspect of Sérgio’s campaign, trying his best to ensure that those residing in First World countries and areas without conflict would gain a different perspective on war-torn areas, to show that there is more to it than just political conflict and death of combatants. In a way, Sérgio tried to bring a more humanitarian approach to viewing wars, focusing on the innocent human lives who struggled to survive and were caught in conflicts they had no desire to be a part of.
After this tragic incident, the Sérgio Vieira Mello Foundation and de Mello’s family worked closely with the Ambassadors of France, Switzerland, Japan, and Brazil at both the Geneva and New York tables, steering the draft to dedicate a special day through the General Assembly. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly officially initiated the first World Humanitarian Day. It honors the brave relief workers like Sérgio who selflessly serve every day to make the world a better place for the underprivileged and those whose homes and livelihoods are threatened by war. In 2019, at least 483 relief staff were kidnapped, attacked, or killed, and the situation was no better in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each year, the United Nations observes World Humanitarian Day with a theme. The theme brings together all the people from across the humanitarian ecosystem to improve and raise awareness for the survival, well-being, and dignity of people affected by crises and for the safety of humanitarian workers.
One observance of World Humanitarian Day was themed ‘The Human Race’. The theme aimed to highlight the issues related to the global climate change emergency. It also highlighted the immediate consequences of the climate emergency of the world’s most vulnerable people and raised awareness for their wellbeing.
World Humanitarian Day timeline
The first global relief aid effort starts during the Great Northern Chinese Famine, which kills about 10 million people.
BBC News reporting via Michael Buerk showcases imagery of the Ethiopian famine, which shocks the world.
A suicide bomber kills 22 people, including the chief humanitarian in Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello.
The United Nations General Assembly formalizes August 19 as World Humanitarian Day.
The first World Humanitarian Day is celebrated with the theme ‘We are Humanitarian Workers.’
Almost two-thirds of all governments' international humanitarian aid funding is channeled through the United Nations or other multilateral organizations.
Over 150 relief workers are attacked during their work.
World Humanitarian Day is celebrated with the theme of ‘The Human Race,’ and talks about climate change.
World Humanitarian Day FAQs
Why do we celebrate World Humanitarian Day?
Humanitarian workers injured or killed during duty are commemorated on World Humanitarian Day.
What does a humanitarian do?
A humanitarian engages actively in promoting social reforms and human welfare, and holds no prejudice with human suffering on grounds of religion, sexual orientation, gender, or territory.
A humanitarian’s goal is to save lives, relieve suffering, and maintain human dignity by helping people who are in need.
What was the first theme for the Humanitarian Day celebration?
The first theme for World Humanitarian Day in 2010 was ‘We Are Humanitarian Workers.’
How to Observe World Humanitarian Day
Donate to a humanitarian organization
There are humanitarian organizations all over the world in need of resources. If you are able to donate your time to one of these organizations, that’s wonderful. If you can’t, a monetary donation would go a long way in supplementing workers' resources to help suffering communities. Search online for organizations doing humanitarian work, or go directly to the UN’s World Humanitarian Day website for resources to get you started.
Do some humanitarian work in your community
Being a humanitarian doesn’t have to mean traveling to a war zone — the point of humanitarian aid is to alleviate people’s suffering and maintain human dignity. There may be plenty of options for you to do just that close to home. Try volunteering at a homeless shelter, a nursing home, a hospital or a place that serves underprivileged children.
Contact your elected leaders
Call, email or send a tweet to let your elected leaders know how important humanitarian crises are to you. Ask them to commit to any number of actions to help bolster humanitarian causes in the areas that are near and dear to your heart.
5 Facts About Why Humanitarian Efforts Are Vital
Millions go to bed hungry every night
According to the 2018 Global Hunger Index, roughly one in nine people starve every night.
65.6 million people are displaced
The staggering figure has only increased from 65.3 million in 2015.
Natural disasters affect millions
In 2016, 204 million people were affected in some form by natural disasters.
Clean water is a luxury
Over two billion people don’t have access to sanitary water at home.
Girls are still not going to school
Girls are discouraged from attending school in Third-World countries, with the World Bank estimating 130 million girls aged between 6–17 who are not enrolled in school.
Why World Humanitarian Day is Important
It celebrates unsung heroes
Humanitarian aid workers are some of the most heroic and honorable people alive, putting themselves in harm's way by traveling to conflict zones and disaster areas to help alleviate the suffering of strangers. Despite this great work, these workers are rarely acknowledged publicly, sometimes for their own safety. World Humanitarian Day is a sobering reminder of how many lives have been lost in the name of this valiant cause, as well as a celebration of the workers currently doing this necessary but often, dangerous work.
It highlights the need for humanitarian work
As an occupation, “humanitarian aid worker” isn’t an extremely popular profession. Simply put, there can never be enough humanitarian aid workers out there. Every year, millions of people need humanitarian assistance as a result of disasters both natural and man-made. World Humanitarian Day reminds us of the increasing need for humanitarian workers who can give selflessly of their time.
It’s an international event
A big part of World Humanitarian Day is drawing importance to the need for international cooperation on humanitarian issues. Humanitarian aid workers might be helping people in their home countries, or they might be dispatched to help those in need elsewhere. International cooperation is essential to maintaining the safety of humanitarian aid workers while enabling them to help those who suffer.
World Humanitarian Day dates