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Why the Day – Part 1

This coming Saturday the 19th of August is World Humanitarian Day. So, this week, we will focus on the reason this day is commemorated and what is Humanitarianism, as well as looking at the Islamic perspective.

World Humanitarian Day – Why the day?

There is a saying that goes: It takes a village to raise a child. Similarly, it takes a village to support a person in a humanitarian crisis. With record-high humanitarian needs around the world, this year’s World Humanitarian Day builds on this metaphor of collective endeavour to grow global appreciation of humanitarian work.

Whenever and wherever people are in need, there are others who help them. They are the affected people themselves – always first to respond when disaster strikes – and a global community that supports them as they recover. Far from the spotlight and out of the headlines, they come together to ease suffering and bring hope.

Among the aims of this day is to shine a light on the thousands of volunteers, professionals and crisis-affected people who deliver urgent health care, shelter, food, protection, water and much more.

Background

On 19 August 2003, a bomb attack on the Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq, killed 22 humanitarian aid workers, including the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello. Five years later, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution designating 19 August as World Humanitarian Day (WHD).

Each year, World Humanitarian Day focuses on a theme, bringing together partners from across the humanitarian system to advocate for the survival, well-being and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers.

What is Humanitarianism?

Humanitarianism is an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans to reduce suffering and improve the conditions of humanity for moral, altruistic, and emotional reasons. One aspect involves voluntary emergency aid overlapping with human rights advocacy, actions taken by governments, development assistance, and domestic philanthropy.

A practitioner is known as a humanitarian.

Humanitarianism is an informal ideology of practice; it is “the doctrine that people’s duty is to promote human welfare.”

Humanitarianism is based on a view that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such. Therefore, humanitarians work towards advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is the antithesis of the “us vs. them” mentality that characterizes tribalism and ethnic nationalism. Humanitarians abhor slavery, violation of basic and human rights, and discrimination on the basis of features such as skin colour, religion, ancestry, or place of birth. Humanitarianism drives people to save lives, alleviate suffering, and promote human dignity in the middle of human-made or natural disasters. Humanitarianism is embraced by movements and people across the political spectrum. The informal ideology can be summed up by a quote from Albert Schweitzer: “Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose.”

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