World Humanitarian Day, a day for celebrating the world’s humanitarians was celebrated at Parliament House in Canberra on the 19th of August with a focus on the stories behind the headlines. Ms. Melissa Parke, Co-Chair of the Australia-UN Parliamentary Group and Federal Member for Fremantle opened the proceedings and welcomed everyone to the event.
She also stated that it was particularly notable to be holding the event during the 70th anniversary year of the United Nations.
She said on “this World Humanitarian Day, it is appropriate that we spend some time to remember those who spend their lives and sometimes tragically loose their lives, helping the world’s most vulnerable people on behalf of all of us.”
Ms. Parke then introduced the panel members: Regional Representative of UNHCR in Canberra Mr. Thomas Albrecht; Sister Angelique Namaika recipient of the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award and Head of ‘Maison de la Femme’ women’s refuge in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Mr. Leonard Blazeby, Head of ICRC in Australia; Ms. Rebecca Barber, Policy Advisor, Save the Children and Mr. Jamie Isbister, First Assistant Secretary, Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Mr. Thomas Albrecht then read the World Humanitarian Day message from the United Nations Secretary General – a message which focused on honouring our fallen colleagues, urging more action for the record number of people in need and asking us to join together to celebrate our common humanity.
Mr. Marc Purcell, Executive Director of the Australian Council for International Development, through his role as moderator then invited panelists to discuss the opportunities for change and to indicate ‘where things are getting better’.
First up, Leonard Blazeby also noted that there is a massive increase of people in need. He also discussed the greater fragmentation of armed groups and the existence of chronic and forgotten conflicts. He said that it was not all doom and gloom pointing to the ICRC’s increased access to people who need assistance and ICRC’s ability to still maintain the provision of neutral and impartial humanitarian action.
Next, Thomas Albrecht said that he was quite shocked about the rise in the number of displaced people since 2014 – the rise of an extra ten million people bringing the total figure to sixty million in 2015. He added that it was important to recognize that there are human beings behind these statistics.
However, on a positive note, he did say that the international community is now looking at these crises as a global issue – with more thought to combining the emergency, humanitarian and long-term development responses to alleviate these challenges.
He also stressed that these current crises are measures of global security which demand immediate initiatives at the political level so impunity “comes out of the minds” of the perpetrators.
Following on, the second part of the event focused on the Australian response to humanitarian challenges.
Ms. Rebecca Barber mentioned the incredible generosity of the Australian people through their donations for the Nepalese earthquake response and the aftermath of Cyclone Pam in the Pacific. She also mentioned the large number of Australians deployed globally in humanitarian work within non-government and International organizations.
In terms of the Australian government she said that it partners well with non- government organizations – mentioning the good work done during the aftermath of Cyclone Pam and the disaster risk reduction work in the Solomon Islands.
Also on the panel, Jamie Isbister firstly responded to the discussion by saying it was important to celebrate World Humanitarian day to reflect on the challenges and the context of the challenges that we collectively face. He also mentioned the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, in Istanbul, in May, 2016, regarding it as a very important event for the global community.
He noted that the Australian government works well in four areas. Firstly how it works – it is seen as a good responder, mentioning Cyclone Pam. Secondly, the way in which it funds – both in quantity and through flexible multi-year funding – the latter of which allows organizations to respond when surge issues occur. Thirdly, the calibre and number of the Australians working in the humanitarian sphere. And lastly, the Australian Government’s investment in preparedness and risk reduction, mentioning Vanuatu, as a good example – comparing the size of the intensity of the Cyclone to the low mortality rate due to the establishment of early warning systems. In the same vein, he also mentioned the earthquake in Nepal and the retrofitting of 169 schools funded by the Australian government resulting in all the schools surviving. Investing in risk reduction efforts reaps positive results, he added.
Sister Angelique Namaika, through an interpreter, spoke next – sharing stories on the work that she does in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She thanked Australia for their contributions to assist her in helping the woman and the children who have suffered atrocities as a consequence of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
She spoke about the activities that her organization implements in order to assist the women and children to rebuild their lives and to overcome their trauma. These include projects in baking, agriculture, literacy and sewing.
She also spoke about the clinic and primary school which they have established. She also added that they have a desperate need for maternity services.
She finished by saying that although World Humanitarian Day is a day in which we remember humanitarian’s who have died – with a kind glance to all present she asked us not to give up and to keep our courage as humanitarians and to continue to do our work, “to stay with us so we are all together”.
The event was attended by Parliamentarians, non-government organizations, defence forces and UN organizations.
The event was organized by the Australia – United Nations Parliamentary Group, the United Nations Information Centre Canberra, the Australian Council for International Development, the International Committee for the Red Cross and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.