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World Humanitarian Day

  | Tatiana Valovaya Speech

 

Dear Survivors of attacks on humanitarian workers,

Dear families and friends of colleagues lost in humanitarian

service,

Excellencies,

Ladies and gentlemen:

 

Please join me in a moment of silence.

(Moment of silence)

Eighteen years ago, on this very day, the United Nations family lost 22 colleagues in the devastating suicide bombing of the Canal Hotel in Baghdad. On 11 December 2007, another senseless terrorist act in Algiers caused the death of 17 UN staff members.

Their names are engraved on two plaques behind me, forever commemorating their ultimate sacrifice in service of humanity. These courageous individuals are a source of inspiration to us all. Each one of them was a hero to the cause of humanitarianism, their lives cut short in their prime.

We have before and since lost colleagues in many other places across the globe. The list of attacks against UN staff has grown exponentially over the years. In 2020 alone, 475 humanitarian aid workers were attacked and 108 aid workers were killed.

Today we bow our heads to these colleagues, our fallen friends and family. We salute the bravery and resilience of the survivors. We pay tribute to the thousands of humanitarian aid workers around the globe, prepared to risk everything for a better world. You are the heart and soul of the United Nations.  

As you know, in the last days the entire world has been following with a heavy heart the events in Afghanistan, resulting in a humanitarian crisis that affects more than 18 million people, or half the country’s population. Despite the grave developments in the country, humanitarian aid workers remain faithful to their mission of providing vital services to affected communities.  In the words of the Secretary-General, the United Nations stay and deliver in support of the Afghan people in their hour of need. 

Furthermore, in the wake of a large earthquake in Haiti just days ago, that left nearly 2,000 people dead and many others wounded and homeless, humanitarian aid workers are there at the forefront, providing vital assistance.

This catastrophe is a harrowing reminder of the major earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, where hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives, including 102 courageous and dedicated colleagues. My thoughts are with the Haitian people and all those who have lost their loved ones. The United Nations stands in solidarity with the Haitian people and will continue providing support in these difficult times.

These immense human tragedies, and countless others, have impacted the lives of millions, including many of you who have joined us here today, both physically and virtually.

I am deeply honoured and humbled to share this moment with some of the survivors and family members of the victims. A heartfelt thank you to Laura Dolci for sharing your memories and reflections of the Baghdad Canal Hotel bombing on this important occasion. Your words will keep alive the memory of those we have lost and will inspire us to carry out their work.

World Humanitarian Day is also an opportunity to remember the many victims of terrorism. We pay tribute to the thousands of civilians – attacked, injured and killed in violent conflicts around the world. On 21 August the United Nations will observe the International Day of Remembrance and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism. The United Nations stands in solidarity with the families who have lost loved ones, the wounded survivors, and those whose lives have been forever changed by acts of terrorism.

Dear colleagues and friends,

In this challenging year, humanitarians are being tested like never before. The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated humanitarian needs across the world while the climate emergencies continue to wreak havoc at a scale that the humanitarian community cannot manage.

This past year, which had some of the worst natural disasters on record, including extreme heatwaves, has shown us the devastating impacts of climate change. Almost 1,000 people lost their lives to flooding in July alone. In various parts of the world, climate shocks have led to famine, drought and devastating forest fires.

Time is running out for the world’s most vulnerable people — those who have contributed least to the global climate emergency, yet are hit hardest — and millions of other people have lost their homes, their livelihoods or their lives.

I therefore take this opportunity to invite you to join #TheHumanRace against the climate crisis - this year’s global campaign for World Humanitarian Day. I encourage you to join people from across the globe on the Strava app to run, walk, swim, row or cycle for climate action until 31 August. Every minute of activity counts towards carrying our message to world leaders at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.

Ladies and gentlemen:

On this solemn occasion, let us honour the memory of our fallen colleagues by rededicating ourselves to the noble cause of promoting peace, prosperity and opportunity for every human being in this world.

Today is an opportunity to examine our own lives and consider what more we can do to help - to reach out to people enduring hardship, conflict or disaster. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, life’s most persistent and urgent question is “What are you doing for others?” I hope this question inspires the humanitarian spirit in you all.  

Thank you all for being with us today - whether right here in Geneva, or virtually, joining us from Baghdad, Algiers, New York and elsewhere.

Thank you for your attention.