World Humanitarian Day – No medals, no records, no podiums: Just saving lives


On the 19th of August, we celebrate those who dedicate their time, effort and skills to others. Humanitarian workers may not be Olympic athletes, but on their working marathons, they often put their lives at stake to protect others. They thrive not to achieve the best time, but the most effective result. They carry the torch of solidarity and altruism. The EU honours all humanitarian workers saving lives and helping the most vulnerable in times of crisis worldwide. Their courage, will and determination is the victory of us all.

© Mahmoud Fadel/IRC

Humanitarian catastrophes are seen all around. At any point in time, even in areas that seem stable, conditions can deteriorate quickly and placing populations in danger. From natural catastrophes to political events, people can suddenly become vulnerable. When this occurs, humanitarian workers are there to help, putting their best at disposal of the most exposed worldwide.

The global pandemic has set even more barriers to already vulnerable communities and finishing lines to improve quality of lives have been pushed further down. The support and dedication of humanitarian workers have been crucial to ensuring that many communities were not left behind.

In Yemen, the outbreak of COVID-19 amplified the feelings of uncertainty resulting from the ongoing armed conflict. At the peak of the outbreak in 2020, hospitals had begun to deny patients in hopes of reducing the spread of the virus. “Many women were wondering where to deliver their babies and how to protect themselves,” explains Dr. Bushra Al-Aghbari.

With EU humanitarian funding, the IRC runs mobile medical units, allowing Bushra to provide women in remote locations with reproductive health care. © Mahmoud Fadel/IRC.

The brave 27-year old doctor took the task of managing 8 EU-funded mobile health teams. Her teams of healthcare workers provide pregnant women and babies vital support in areas where they wouldn’t otherwise have access to healthcare. Their work is a continuous competition against the conditions rural communities face, having as a target protecting the lives of women and their babies.


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In 2012, Rabe’a decided to become a nurse. Back then, while her neighborhood was being bombarded, Rabe’a felt paralyzed, as she was not capable of helping the wounded who fell before her. “In the very moment, I thought of my kids, and I didn’t want to end up in a situation where I can’t help them if something bad happened to them”, she said.

Rabe’a just graduated from the Midwifery and Nursing School in Afrin, and now working at al-Mahab Hospital supported by Syria Relief and Development Organization and funded by the European Union. She has become one of the many brave humanitarian aid workers battling to save lives in the war-torn Syria.

EU Aid Volunteer, Martino Roberto Chiappa, is supporting his host humanitarian organisation in Mozambique to raise awareness in remote communities on actions that can prevent coronavirus and help them stay safe. © WeWorldGVC, 2020

When the pandemic reached Italy, Martino was in Mozambique, working as a volunteer. He wondered about going back to his home country, to be closer to his family and friends. But when he became aware of the implications of the pandemic in his hosting country, he decided to stay and fulfill his mission of helping others.

As official information may not always arrive in the most remote regions of the country, Martino planned and participated in outreach activities. Having the correct information is essential for communities to better prepare for combating the spread of the virus.


The context that we live in is also constrained by climate change – we cannot afford to ignore its consequences. The growing number of natural catastrophes and its consequential social pressures open wounds hard to restore. This year, the United Nations celebrates World Humanitarian Day with the launching of #TheHumanRace campaign. Together with some of the biggest names in sport, the campaign encourages the world to run, walk, swim, row or cycle to save lives and the environment.


Besides the challenging conditions humanitarian workers face, their lives may also be under threat when working in the field. In 2020, 108 humanitarian workers lost their lives and 125 were kidnapped. Up until now, in 2021, there have been 105 major attacks against humanitarian workers.

"We condemn such attacks, their perpetrators need to be held accountable. Saving lives should never cost lives - humanitarian workers cannot be a target. We salute their courage and dedication and express our sympathy to the families, friends and colleagues of those who have lost their lives while helping others." stated the EU High Representative Josep Borrell and the EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič in a Joint Statement on the World Humanitarian Day.

In the same statement, Josep Borrell and Janez Lenarčič call for all parties involved in conflicts worldwide to ‘respect International Humanitarian Law and refrain from targeting humanitarian workers and civilians, including civilian infrastructure. We also underline the importance of fully respecting and adhering to the internationally recognised humanitarian principles.


Helping others is not a sprint. It’s a long run that takes the efforts of thousands of altruist and courageous people from all parts of the globe. Their sweat is not met at the end by a gold medal, therefore it is important to acknowledge their work and thank all humanitarian and medical workers for making the world a better place.

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