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August 20, 09

NEWS / U.S. Marks World Humanitarian Day, Announces Additional Aid

By Stephen Kaufman
Staff Writer

Washington — U.S. officials marked the first World Humanitarian Day by announcing an additional $160 million to support global aid work and calling for governments and parties in conflict areas around the world to pay attention to the safety of humanitarian workers.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in an August 19 statement that World Humanitarian Day is being observed to increase public awareness of the activities of aid groups and volunteers, as well as to honor their efforts to help the world’s most vulnerable people.

Established by the United Nations General Assembly in 2008, the August 19 commemoration marks the anniversary of the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad that killed 22 people, including U.N. Special Representative and former High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello.

“The success of our collective response to humanitarian crises rests on the selfless commitment and dedication of professional humanitarian aid workers,” Clinton said. Aid workers, she added, increasingly are becoming the targets of violent attacks, with a record 260 workers killed, kidnapped or seriously injured in 2008 alone.

She called for governments and parties in conflict areas to “give their highest attention to the safety and security of humanitarian personnel.”

In a separate statement, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice praised the “true, often unspoken heroes” in the aid community.

“They protect, feed and rescue the vulnerable of the world. They are an inspiration to us all,” Rice said, adding that the United States will continue helping those in crisis and support the humanitarian work of the United Nations, nongovernmental organizations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement.

At the State Department, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees and Migration Eric Schwartz told reporters August 19 that humanitarian relief work is “unfortunately … a growth industry,” with 42 million people — 25 percent more than in 2001 — uprooted by conflict and persecution around the world.

In addition, in 2008 more than 235,000 people were killed and 214 million affected by natural disasters, with an economic cost estimated at $190 billion. Those figures are “far higher than the average for the six, seven or eight years before,” Schwartz said.


Schwartz announced that the Obama administration is marking World Humanitarian Day with the announcement of an additional $160 million to support international humanitarian assistance and protection efforts, as well as work to create conditions for sustainable recovery. The total U.S. contribution to global humanitarian efforts for 2009 had previously been estimated at about $4.5 billion, not including aid efforts by the U.S. military.

The assistant secretary said the new funds would include about $58 million for assistance in Africa, “with a particular focus on Somali displaced, the Congo, Sudan and Chad,” $29 million to help Afghan refugees and conflict victims, and about $71 million to “address critical crises in many of the other major refugee-producing regions of the world.”

U.S. policymaking should have the protection of the world’s most vulnerable people at its center, Schwartz said. “First, there’s the moral imperative, the imperative of saving lives.”

But he also said U.S. leadership on humanitarian issues allows it to influence aid principles, policy and programs.

“It’s essential that we strengthen partnerships with key friends and allies and their populations and the populations of our adversaries, where our efforts not only help to break down negative images and stereotypes but also communicate to the world at large our commitment to principles of responsible U.S. engagement overseas,” Schwartz said.

Third, he said, conflicts and human suffering affect prospects for stability and can “dramatically affect” U.S. interests.

The U.S. humanitarian engagement is remarkable, Schwartz said. “If there’s an international humanitarian crisis anywhere in the world, the resources of the United States, of the Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the civilian resources of the United States, in one way or another, [are] likely to be there in support of protection of victims.”

Schwartz outlined U.S. aid efforts in Pakistan, where he said he was encouraged that more than half of the 2.2 million displaced by fighting have now returned to their homes, and in Sri Lanka, where he said the United States is concerned over the “involuntary confinement” of the 280,000 people who had been displaced by fighting between the Sri Lankan government and Tamil rebels.

“Everywhere around the world, displaced persons make their own judgments about when it is right to go back. And people, we have found, are pretty good judges of their own best interests,” he said.

Turning to Iraq, Schwartz said that by October 2009, more than 30,000 Iraqi refugees will have been resettled in the United States. With 2 million displaced within Iraq, resettlement “will not be the answer to this problem but can play a role in helping to assist those who are in greatest need.”

Ultimately, Schwartz said, a refugee has three choices. “It’s either third-country settlement, it’s integration in place, in the place where they’re getting refuge, or return [to their homes]. And we hope and believe that the answer for the vast majority of Iraqis who are outside their country of origin will be return.”

But U.S. humanitarian efforts are focused on more than just the crises that make news headlines, he said. “That’s not what humanitarians are supposed to do, and it’s not what we do. We try to keep our attention focused anywhere in the world where large numbers of people are suffering and the dimensions of the crisis require some degree of international engagement.”

For example, Schwartz pointed to U.S. assistance for Burmese victims who have been displaced to Thailand due to recent military activity in the country’s northeast and Karen state. He also mentioned ongoing U.S. support for Burmese Rohingya refugees who have fled to Bangladesh and Indonesia.


Tags: secretary of state,


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