Every day, conflicts and disasters befall millions of people everywhere but never more intensely and painful than in the world's poorest and marginalised economies. Even in South Australia, poverty levels are now running at about 17.6 percent according to FoodBank SA. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, in 2011 alone, 302 hazards resulted in disasters that claimed almost 30,000 lives, affected over 206 million people and inflicted damage worth an estimated USD366 billion.
United Nations Building in New York / Image by Maverick Dal of Flickr
In such times of suffering, humanitarian aid workers reach out to help rebuild and rehabilitate the victimised communities, helping millions of people around the world, regardless of who they are and where they are. Though the number may look small, more than 800 aid workers worldwide have been assassinated, blown up by mines or other explosive devices, abducted or killed accidentally with the people they were aiding over the last 10 years. On 19 August 2003, 22 humanitarian staff tragically lost their lives in Iraq in a massive bomb attack on the UN Baghdad headquarters including widely respected UN envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello. In honour of those who have endured great losses in humanitarian service and those who continue to bring assistance and relief to millions, the UN General Assembly adopted the same 19 August to declare World Humanitarian Day in 2008. On the UN's Remember the Fallen website those who have died in the service of peace are not forgotten.
This year, the UN's General Assembly chamber in New York was a concert hall for Beyonce's music video "I was Here". Its orchestrated release in the World Humanitarian Day campaign rallied 1 billion social media voices.
Alan McLean, CEO of RedR Australia, which trains and provides emergency personnel to assist after major disaster shared with me that the international community of humanitarian response, Australia included, is fully stretched and struggling, needing new understanding and new support for its lifesaving mandate. Alan who has been personally involved in overseas disaster since 1979 was concerned that too many people are homeless and hungry - the equivalent of almost twice Australia's population is seeking refuge today and more than four times Australia's population needed international food aid in the past year. Alan reminded that World Humanitarian Day also pays tribute to the aid workers from Australia and all Australian aid agencies should review processes around selection, preparation and deployment of field staff to ensure their continued safety and welfare.
The UN Association of Australia, a national non-profit organisation dedicated to informing the community about the work of the UN, partnered with AusAID to coordinate national celebrations for World Humanitarian Day. UNAA Executive Director Elizabeth Shaw shared that she and her team hoped that all Australians become aware of the vital importance of a timely, effective and generous Australian aid program, and an aid program that supports UN agencies on the ground which are saving lives in incredibly difficult environments. World Humanitarian Day, she stated provides an opportunity to reflect on Australia's humanitarian contribution and ways to enhance our aid program.
In addition to raising awareness of Australia's humanitarian aid programs, UNAA in South Australia will work in conjunction with charity partners Anglicare-Magdalene Centre and Foodbarn, to provide lunch for 80 homeless and disadvantaged people on 28 August. There will also be a screening of the World Humanitarian Day Film in Rundle Mall Adelaide.
The Australian Government is also doing its bit via AusAID to help 30 million vulnerable people around the world. Its AUD405 million in global humanitarian funding in 2012 will provide life-saving assistance in conflict and crisis situations.
As someone who has served on various UN-related committees, I support the UN's efforts and its Millennium Development Goals. But this Day is not about glorifying UN and its people who face danger and adversity in order to deliver aid. It's not about international dignitaries who gather in the grand chambers fueled by lofty goals of saving the world. Although the event has now passed and likely forgotten, the real significance of World Humanitarian Day is about people. It's about everyone. It's about you. And how you can make a difference.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon / Image by Cantus of Wikipedia Commons
As UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon remarked, "This year's World Humanitarian Day presents an historic opportunity to bring together one billion people from around the world to advance a powerful and proactive idea: People Helping People…"
Oxfam Australia, which works for a future free from poverty, acknowledged that doing good is easy. They believe at a more grass-roots level, World Humanitarian Day is also a timely opportunity to reflect on our own lives and what we as individuals can do to help others. The Australian Red Cross have always understood the power of humanity. Olivia Cozzolino, Australian Red Cross' General Manager for Merchandise and Retail and her team have been working with individuals who generously donate their winter woollies to the 164 retail stores around Australia in a kind gesture to warm up the less fortunate who are feeling the cold.
Regency International Centre in TAFE South Australia adopted this concept by simply treating 80 people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness together with Anglicare as part of the UN's World Humanitarian Day. The kitchen crews of Regency students and Adelaide City Council staff served serve up antipasto, pumpkin and basil soup, Murray Lands lamb and crusty pear tart. Anglicare will transport the special guests to the lunch. The good folks like Chefs Tze Khaw and Jean Louis Gaillard of Regency International Centre and Anglicare Acting General Manager Christine Bell have understood the true message. It is simply about an act of kindness and helping others around you. Even if it's for one day and you needed the nudge.
You don't even have to wait for World Humanitarian Day to witness daily acts of kindness in Adelaide.
Tanya Gyzi, a visual artist and stand-up comedian performing at SALA (South Australian Living Artists) gave 10% of the sales from her abstract artworks to help Katie, a Mount Gambier toddler who has a rare disease, afford her interstate flights for treatments, and put smiles on her family's faces.
Fruit grower Zac Caudo partnered with Foodbank SA to donate nearly 70 tonnes of navel oranges from his orchard to more than 30 Adelaide schools. Foodbank SA itself helps to feed 130,000 people each year by supplying food to 600 charities, schools and other community centres.
Sure, it helped to have Beyonce's celebrity pull factor and her calling on people to rise together and do one nice thing for another human being. Creative agency Droga5 also delivered a successful campaign that put World Humanitarian Day on people's radar and an interactive "I Was Here" website that allowed people to peg their small deeds of compassion to their location. But helping someone and doing good does not require you making a commitment to become a humanitarian aid worker, or volunteering to go and help in Algeria for 3 years, or trying to help solve the world's problems. You can be delivering a meal to a homeless person; holding the elevator door for someone; sharing your skills in a community project; helping an older person with their shopping bags; sharing jokes with the elderly in a home; taking an disabled neighbour to the park; reading to a sick child in the hospital; giving away something you don't use; recommend someone a job; or sharing a smile.
So Adelaide, remember to share your kindness around and do something good, somewhere, for someone else.