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Today marks World Humanitarian Day, a day designated by the UN General Assembly to remember the 22 UN and relief agency staff who lost their lives in a bombing in Baghdad 11 years ago. Since its designation in 2008, August 19th has become an occasion to celebrate the commitment of relief workers and honor fallen aid workers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
On this day, we honor our own unsung heroes: fellow USAID colleagues and committed partners who assume great personal risk to respond to humanitarian crises in Syria, South Sudan, Iraq, and other active crises. In a world where crises are increasing in complexity and magnitude, saving lives is becoming even harder.
Last year was the most dangerous year for aid workers in the past decade, with 155 relief staff killed, 171 injured, and 134 kidnapped. At the same time, at least 33 million people were internally displaced due to conflict and violence—the highest figure ever recorded.
Despite great security risks, our teams and our partners continue to find innovative ways to deliver life-saving assistance to the world’s most vulnerable people. Over the past few weeks, our Agency began responding to two heightened crises—the conflict in Iraq and the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. We have deployed Disaster Assistance Response Teams to both places to guide the U.S. Government’s disaster response, coordinating with partners like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On top of these recent disasters, we are actively responding to protracted crises around the world. In Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic, we are strengthening ongoing efforts—including providing critical medical supplies, distributing emergency food, and reuniting lost children with their families. Overall in the past year, we provided emergency assistance to tens of millions of people in 40 countries in response to 52 distinct disasters.
Yet, while we are engaged in saving those in immediate danger, we are also making strides in reducing the need for humanitarian aid by strengthening the resilience of vulnerable communities. Through a new emphasis on resilience, we are helping communities strengthen their food security, access local medical care, and withstand natural disasters like drought, famine, and typhoons. In time, it means that communities used to recurrent crises can envision a day where they no longer rely on our assistance.
On this day, our Agency recognizes the tremendous service that our humanitarians perform every day to save lives around the world. We are forever grateful to them.