World Humanitarian Day

On 19 August, we celebrated the second World Humanitarian Day. People around the world paid tribute to the humanitarian aid workers who risk their lives in conflict zones every day.

The UN chose to hold World Humanitarian Day on 19 August in honour of Sergio Vieira de Mello, the UN envoy to Iraq, and the 21 other UN staffers who were killed in an attack in Baghdad on 19 August 2003.

Every year, millions of people are affected by conflicts or natural disasters, like this year’s earthquake in Haiti and floods in Pakistan. The victims are often the poorest and most vulnerable in society. Aid workers save lives, often in difficult circumstances, with no thought for the victims’ nationality, religion or social position.

In recent years, critics have been arguing that humanitarian aid is a solely Western matter or that it represents a certain ideological or religious worldview. This impression is undeserved, but it has led to more attacks on aid workers. In 2008, 260 of them were murdered, kidnapped or seriously injured in violent attacks. As a result, aid agencies have become more aware that the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence are of paramount importance in providing humanitarian aid.

The Netherlands supports the best efforts of aid workers by subsidising the organisations for which they work. It also advocates respect for humanitarian principles in the international dialogue between donors, aid agencies and the governments of recipient countries. In addition, it subsidises security training for aid workers in NGOs.

Three examples of Dutch support:


Since June, a large area of the country has been flooded, and more than 15 million people are affected. The Netherlands immediately made 1 million euros available to the International Red Cross and two million euros for aid via the UN World Food Programme. This contribution is enabling aid workers to provide emergency shelter in tents, medical care, food, clean drinking water and sanitation.


In January, a huge earthquake caused major damage in Haiti. More than 200,000 people died, and some 1.5 million were made homeless. In its first response to the disaster, the Dutch government sent a team of rescue workers with sniffer dogs, and the crew of a Dutch naval vessel offered to assist in the relief operation. The Dutch government, via humanitarian organisations, also donated almost 44 million euros in financial aid. Of these funds, 1 million euros went to the World Food Programme (WFP), 1 million to the Red Cross, and almost 42 million to the joint Dutch aid agencies (SHO). The funds have enabled aid workers in Haiti to provide temporary tents, food, clean drinking water, emergency schools and emergency clinics – and to help with the construction of temporary homes.

Darfur – Sudan

Sudan has been plagued for years by internal conflict. In northern Sudan, where Darfur is located, almost 5 million people have been displaced, some for decades. In the displaced persons camps, aid workers from CARE International Switzerland provide emergency aid, health care, sanitation and food for malnourished young children. The area is very unsafe owing to fighting with and between rebels and raids by gangs. Aid workers are regularly kidnapped, and vehicles are stolen from aid agencies. The Dutch government is donating 1.8 million euros to the CARE project in Darfur. Throughout Sudan, the Dutch government is donating a total of 7 million euros for emergency relief.