World Humanitarian Day – 19 August 2009
In the Line of Duty: For your tomorrow, we gave our today….
Pakistan’s 62nd Independence day celebrations have passed only around the corner, 14 August being the day of annual jubilation. I am sure that most of us, if not all, must have thought about how they can contribute better to their country, their one home in the entire world, especially in the times of current crisis. Now, imagine a person who thinks about the needs of the world as a whole, who cares for humanity without associating them with a particular country or region. A citizen of the world, so to speak. That my friend, is a humanitarian worker. And that’s not just about anyone who works for a particular development agency. I am a humanitarian worker, just as much as you are. As long as we care about people in need, as long as we are there to support people in crisis: natural or man-made….we are all one humanitarian community.
Last year, the UN General Assembly declared 19 August 2009 as the World Humanitarian Day (WHD), the day itself is for all involved or concerned about humanitarian affairs. It is aimed at drawing attention to humanitarian needs worldwide; acknowledging the ongoing work of humanitarian staff around the globe; and honouring those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service.
Pakistan is prone to natural disasters: this was perhaps reminded to us as we were all jolted by the October 2005 earthquake. Pakistan is also in the midst of a severe active and post-conflict humanitarian crisis as the situation in Swat and the North West Frontier part of the country has worsened. A country that was served devotedly by the humanitarian community, also witnessed a rising threat to the humanitarian workers themselves. There were sad incidents of kidnappings, and some unfortunate deaths apparently targeting the ‘international community’ which includes humanitarian workers who actually left their countries and were working here for years, some who came to Pakistan in a surge capacity, meaning to fill capacity gaps of our national staff to be able to immediately respond to a crisis. They were normal people like you and me, they had family too, who actually waited for them to return after the ‘short assignment’ to a country far off. And let us also not forget the unflinching support all the international staff received from their national counterparts, as most of them risked their own lives. Driver Hashim who got hit by a bullet in Quetta when John Solecki was kidnapped (and later released) is a case in point. There was a mission from my own unit that was to go to Peshawar a day after the Peshawar hotel bombing, and as I saw the video footages of most residents of the hotel obviously hailing from humanitarian agencies, I was shaken to realize that it could have been people I share office space with, heck it could have been me too.
As a humanitarian worker, I have been to the field on various occasions and it was always my travel to the distant field offices that made me respect the way we work. I have travelled in terrains where even our four-wheel drives get stuck and I think about all the field staff who actually use the roads as a daily routine, to carry out the field work we all rely so heavily on. For me, the field staff is the real face of any development agency in the country. While I complain about being overworked in Islamabad, where I hardly notice the electricity going off because the generator would immediately pick up and my work continues smoothly, I now realize the agony field staff working with the government departments must have to face as the electricity goes away for hours at a stretch. While I complain about how ‘ugly’ my office building now looks with all the hesco (protection) walls, and all the security procedures we all have to go through, I now realize the real threat our field staff must feel in the given security environment, when they are expected to continue working with the government counterparts and still be seen as the ‘international agency’ and face the associated ‘threats’. While I complain how difficult it is to be a working mother, I now think about how it must feel to be a woman in the field because as I have seen myself on many occasions, you are all alone in a room full of men, most of them refusing your position of authority because this is not what they are used to in the cultural context. It is actually my project staff in Bagh, Mansehra, Quetta, Peshawar and really all around the country who represent the core of our service to the Government of Pakistan. They are the true warriors in the current crisis, who are delivering aid, despite all the associated risks.
As we all observe the World Humanitarian Day, I hope all of us would take a minute to say a prayer for all those who have lost their lives, trying to save our lives. They are as much my heroes and heroines as I hold any other close to my heart. They gave their lives for a better Pakistan, for a safer Pakistan. We owe it to them, to the lives they laid down, to do better, to do much more than we already are doing and to finally stand up and be counted in what seems to be a long walk towards meeting the current humanitarian challenge Pakistan is facing. The challenge is perhaps not so much while working in the relief phase, as everyone is there on the field within the first 24 hours. The challenge is more so working for early recovery, towards long term rehabilitation of any crisis, as media frenzy slows down the interest of donors and other strong players and that’s when international agencies and NGOs work silently to meet the huge resource gaps. The least we can do today, as a nation, is to thank them for all the great work they are doing, for our country, our crisis and our challenges.
And when you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow, we gave our today