Editorial: Make humanitarian day mean much, much more

Sunday August 19 2018

Today, August 19, is World Humanitarian Day (WHD) – so-designated by the UN General Assembly as ‘Resolution A/63/L.49 on Strengthening the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations.’

The date is the anniversary of the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, on August 19, 2003, killing 22 UN staff.

That was the day when the-then Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in Iraq – Brazilian Diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello (1948-2003) – and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the terrorist attack of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad 15 years ago to the day.

So, WHD is “a global celebration of ‘people helping people.’”

Officially commemorated for the first time on August 19, 2009, World Humanitarian Day is a time to annually recognize those who face danger and adversity around the world – including especially humanitarian aid workers not only of the United Nations, but also of other humanitarian organisations “which help millions of people around the world every day, regardless of who they are, or where they are.”

More than 130 million people throughout the world are currently in crisis, mostly through war and/or natural disasters. In any case, they all are in need of humanitarian aid in one form or another, and to one degree or another.

Burundi, South Sudan

In the East African Community (EAC), two of the six member nations – Burundi and South Sudan – are home to populations in dire need of humanitarian aid.

With an estimated population of some 10.4 million souls, Burundi is plagued by ethnic violence, political instability and internecine violence that includes brutal killings, torture, rape, kidnapping, etc. Other maladies are HIV/Aids (adult prevalence rate of 1.3 per cent of the population); malaria, typhoid and dengue fevers, rabies, hepatitis-A, protozoal and bacterial diarrhea, abject poverty (GDP per capita in 2017: $212.55), rampant deforestation…

Surprisingly enough, President Pierre Nkurunzinza’s controversial third-term presidency has banned the most prominent human rights organisations in the country, replacing them with the ruling party’s Youth Wing ‘Imbonerakure’.

South Sudan (GDP per capita in 2017: $228) isn’t much different from Burundi in the humanitarian stakes – including abject poverty, widespread civil unrest, political disturbances, the whole gamut of maladies, natural and manmade …

After four years of internecine civil war, the protagonists – President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, defector Rick Machar – signed an IGAD-sponsored peace pact in Khartoum last August 5.

For starters, the authorities have disarmed civilians who had ‘excelled’ in cattle raids/rustling and revenge killings.

Fair enough, we say.

But, we also say that the EAC leadership must not contentedly sit on their collective hands. Undoubtedly, the peoples of Burundi and South Sudan sorely need humanitarian and other aid.

Therefore, we must all go beyond mere gesturing and ensure that Burundians, South Sudanese and others of the human ilk are freed from humanitarian crises – and future ones avoided.