World Humanitarian Day is a celebration of the work of humanitarians, and those who have lost their lives serving the humanitarian cause. The day ultimately promotes the important message of ‘people helping people’, and honours the individuals who choose to protect others by putting their lives at risk.
World Humanitarian Day was born to commemorate the anniversary of the 19 August 2003 bomb attack on the United Nations’ headquarters in Iraq, where 22 people lost their lives, including the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Every year, World Humanitarian Day focuses on a different theme, each as significant as the other, including celebrating women humanitarians, protecting civilians and humanitarian workers in conflict zones and raising awareness of the climate emergency.
The 2022 theme is Real Life Heroes, highlighting the lifesaving work of healthcare workers and humanitarian heroes during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Humanitarian aid work throughout the Covid-19 pandemic
This year’s theme offers the perfect occasion to look back on the contributions made by health workers in the past two and a half years, and the continued support these individuals are providing to those who are still suffering.
“Health workers put themselves in harm’s way at the very onset of the Covid-19 crisis, when we hardly had any knowledge about the virus and the level of risk involved, and without the protection offered by vaccines,” says Shameet Thakkar, founder of Unimed Procurement Services (Unimed).
“It is precisely this kind of passion and dedication we should celebrate on World Humanitarian Day. It is easy to forget how far we’ve come and how many lives have been saved thanks to health workers. We simply wouldn’t be where we are now if it weren’t for their courage and altruism,” he adds.
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a widespread global crisis, albeit with uneven effects. Countries with strong, reliable health systems and stable access to resources have had the privilege of being able to access essential medical care throughout the pandemic, with relatively minor disruptions.
However, the pandemic significantly exacerbated the pre-existing crises affecting poverty-stricken countries, with substantial repercussions. While many Western countries saw the worst of Covid-19-related deaths and complications in the past two years, others, such as Latin American and Caribbean countries, continue to struggle due to inequality and lack of access to health facilities.
The large number of successful humanitarian missions dedicated to providing assistance in these countries throughout the pandemic perfectly showcases the value of humanitarian workers and organisations in building a better future.
Having tirelessly worked with aid organisations and charities to offer aid to countries in need since the beginning of the crisis, Unimed is one of millions of companies who have adapted to face the challenges introduced by the Covid-19 emergency.
“Throughout the pandemic, we worked with a number of dedicated organisations and individuals to help those who were struggling the most with the effects of the pandemic,” says Shameet.
“In August 2020, Unimed delivered Covid-19 diagnostic equipment to Armenia. There were several complexities involved in delivering supplies to a country we hadn’t supplied to before, and that was in a particularly difficult position.
“At the time, we were yet to fully understand the challenges of operating in the pandemic environment, but what we learned was instrumental in helping us adapt for future missions. Our goal is to continue to supply to countries that need it the most as quickly and efficiently as possible, and ultimately contribute to their economic and social development.”
Armenia was just one of the many countries – in Asia and beyond – that were supported with humanitarian aid since 2020, and with evidence showing that complimentary ways of working in the sector – on an international, regional and local level - facilitate change, the vital role of humanitarian workers should continue to be recognised.
Why is providing humanitarian aid so important?
In 2022, an estimated 274 million individuals are, or will be, in need of humanitarian aid - a number which has increased from 235 million just a year ago.
The Covid-19 crisis, as well as the conflict in Ukraine, has only increased the already strong need for humanitarian aid, and combatting poverty and inequality becomes even more complex when emergencies and crises arise.
“Humanitarian aid is ultimately about providing basic human rights, chiefly healthcare. Put simply, everyone should have access to reliable healthcare systems, and access to healthcare should not be determined based on where an individual is born,” begins Shameet.
“In the West, people have become used to receiving medical care whenever they need it, and often take its importance for granted.
“And though humanitarian and healthcare workers’ incredible stories are extremely inspiring, they also show why there’s such a strong need for solid healthcare systems and equal access to healthcare. Intensifying our support to that end should be paramount.”
Despite the unexpected changes it has brought about, the Covid-19 crisis has also provided the opportunity for the humanitarian sector to evolve to meet new requirements and become future-proof, as well as highlighting necessary changes in structures and processes, particularly within healthcare.