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World Humanitarian Day

Former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush speak at donor's conference for Haiti reconstruction aid. (file)
Former presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush speak at donor's conference for Haiti reconstruction aid. (file)

The U.S. pays tribute to the victims and humanitarian relief workers who have been affected or lost their lives due to conflict or natural disaster.

On August 19, the United States commemorated World Humanitarian Day. At a press conference marking the day, Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration, Eric P. Schwartz, who spoke at the event, said “…We observe World Humanitarian Day… to pay tribute to aid efforts on behalf of victims of conflict and natural disasters and to honor the memory of the more than 700 humanitarian relief workers worldwide who have lost their lives in service over the past decade.”

Assistant Secretary Schwartz also emphasized the importance of U.S. humanitarian assistance at a time when natural and human-made disasters are on the rise. “By the end of last year, 43 million people were displaced by conflict, or forced from their home due to disasters, and that was the highest figure in over a decade,” he noted.

By investing in humanitarian aid the U.S. supports international humanitarian standards and helps to promote disaster prevention, recovery and post-conflict reconciliation, the rule of law and conflict prevention.

Despite the enormity of the most recent disasters, the American people continue to demonstrate generosity, and the U.S. shows no signs of donor fatigue. According to Mark Ward, Acting head of the U.S. Agency for International Disaster Assistance – the lead for U.S. Government response to international disasters – USAID has responded to 65 disasters in the current fiscal year. In the last decade, USAID has responded to nearly 800 disasters around the globe including floods, hurricanes (also known as typhoons in the Pacific Ocean and cyclones in the Indian Ocean), tsunamis, earthquakes, drought, locusts, landslides and technological disasters, as well as complex emergencies in countries struggling with conflict and war.

While the U.S. is the global leader in humanitarian response, it provides much of its assistance through collaborative efforts with other donor countries and international organizations. Nearly 50 percent of all U.S. humanitarian relief goes to UN agencies like the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, and the World Food Program.

Most recently, the U.S. announced $200 million for humanitarian and early recovery efforts in Pakistan, where flooding has affected an estimated 16 million people, 6 million of whom require immediate attention. This year alone, the Department of State and USAID will spend $5 billion worldwide on humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian aid, said Assistant Secretary Schwartz, “not only saves lives, it promotes security and well-being where despair and misery often threaten.”