World Humanitarian Day: Recognising and Supporting Local Humanitarian Action

On the afternoon of 19 August 2003, the headquarters of the United Nations in Iraq was attacked and torn apart by a truck bomb. The massive explosion killed at least 22 people, including United Nations Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and left over a hundred people injured.

In commemoration of this attack, the United Nations named 19 August “World Humanitarian Day”, a day to recognise the sacrifices by those who dedicate their lives to the humanitarian vocation, who often put their own lives at risk to protect and serve those in need, and to mobilise solidarity for people in crisis around the world.

To mark World Humanitarian Day 2016, Yayasan Geutanyoë wishes to highlight the critical role played by local communities in humanitarian action, and how important local humanitarian action is for the ASEAN region.

Local communities- including fishermen, mothers, doctors, teachers, traders, engineers, farmers or local youth-- are the first responders in any crisis. In many cases they are the only ones who can access people in need and are willing to put themselves at risk to save lives. This is the case in Syria, where a humanitarian group called “The White Helmets” made up of over 3000 local community volunteers, have rescued tens of thousands of lives from bombardments and gunfire in the most war-ravaged parts of Syria. Here in our region, Acehnese fishermen risked their lives to rescue thousands of stranded Rohingya refugees and Bangladeshi migrants from the Andaman Sea, and local peace activists continue to bring urgent assistance to conflict-affected communities in Kachin State where there international agencies lack both access and presence. In Malaysia, citizens regularly support poor refugees to access and pay for health services, including maternal and infant health.

The role of local humanitarian actors is not new in Aceh. During the decades of conflict it was local humanitarian organisations established by students and youth, who provided assistance to the hundreds of thousands of people displaced from their homes by the armed conflict. It was these local volunteers, with the support of local community members, who would evacuate dead bodies from conflict areas to bring them to their families for proper burial. These local volunteers sometimes risked their lives in the line of humanitarian duty-- organisations such as the People’s Crisis Centre and RATA were often targeted and intimidated and many humanitarian activists even lost their lives during the conflict.

YG Photo/Muhammad Arafat

Yayasan Geutanyoe was founded by activists who have been actively providing humanitarian assistance and protection since the Aceh conflict. We hope that this World Humanitarian Day will be an occasion to remember the importance of local actors in assisting those in need in Aceh, ASEAN and around the world, and to stand in solidarity with people in crisis everywhere.

The Geutanyoë Foundation
World Humanitarian Day
19 August 2016

 

 

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We are dedicated to cultivating and upholding values of humanity, dignity, peace and sustainability in Aceh and Southeast Asia.

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