Resilience, Peace and Security

What is World Humanitarian Day and why is it important? 

World Humanitarian Day takes place on the 19 August every year to mark the anniversary of the 2003 bomb attack on the UN headquarters at Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq.

World Humanitarian Day takes place on the 19 August every year to mark the anniversary of the 2003 bomb attack on the UN headquarters at Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. Image: Reuters/Umit Bektas

Joe Myers
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  • World Humanitarian Day takes place every 19 August.
  • It recognizes, and aims to raise awareness of, the work of humanitarians around the world.
  • The World Economic Forum's Humanitarian and Resilience Investing Initiative aims to increase funding to tackle humanitarian crises.

World Humanitarian Day takes place every 19 August to recognize the dedication, commitment and sacrifice of humanitarians around the world.

No matter the danger or the hardship, humanitarians venture deep into disaster-stricken regions and, on the front lines of conflict, strive to save and protect people in need.

United Nations

The day aims to promote the well-being, dignity and ultimately the survival of those affected by disasters, and the safety and security of the aid workers who rush to help them.

Like other international days and weeks, it's used to raise awareness and educate the public on global challenges and issues.

With the World Economic Forum's 2023 Global Risks Report warning of the risks of geo-economic confrontation and also the erosion of social cohesion and societal polarization, the role of humanitarians in both preventing, but also responding to, these risks is clear.

Why is Humanitarian Day held on 19 August?

World Humanitarian Day takes place on the 19 August every year to mark the anniversary of the 2003 bomb attack on the UN headquarters at Canal Hotel in Baghdad, Iraq. The attack killed 22 humanitarian workers.

This year represents the 20th anniversary of the attack, which also killed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.

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What is the role of humanitarians?

Humanitarians, like aid workers, work in disaster and conflict zones to protect and save people in need, often by providing basic necessities like food.

And the need is significant, only accelerated by the climate crisis and the conflict in Ukraine over the past 18 months. Globally, humanitarian needs are at record levels, with 360 million people around the world in need of assistance - a 30% increase since the start of 2022.

The work can be dangerous. In 2022, the UN reports, 444 aid workers were attacked, with 116 killed as a result.

Aid workers in 2022
Dangerous aid ... 116 humanitarian workers were killed in 2022. Image: World Humanitarian Day

And funding is an issue. In June, António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, warned that half way through 2023 just 20% of funding needed by the Global Humanitarian Appeal had been received.

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What is this year's theme?

The UN's theme for this year's World Humanitarian Day is #NoMatterWhat. This reflects those who work in the field's commitment to serving and protecting communities in need.

As the UN explains, "we don't give up on our commitment to overcome the challenges and deliver life-saving assistance to people in need, #NoMatterWhat."

This commitment is founded in the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence.

The UN's theme for this year's World Humanitarian Day is #NoMatterWhat.
The UN's theme for this year's World Humanitarian Day is #NoMatterWhat. Image: World Humanitarian Day

What is the World Economic Forum doing to support humanitarian action?

The World Economic Forum's Centre for Regions, Trade and Geopolitics brings together partners to promote peace efforts, build more resilient societies to withstand shocks and boost financing efforts, for example through its Humanitarian and Resilience Investing Initiative.

The initiative worked with UpLink, the Forum's open innovation platform, on its Humanitarian and Impact and Resilience challenge. The challenge sought commercially viable and scalable solutions to help local communities recover from humanitarian crises.

You can learn more about the winners in the video below.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Resilience, Peace and SecurityGeo-Economics and PoliticsGlobal Cooperation
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