Statement by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell and Commissioner Janez Lenarčič on World Humanitarian Day 2021

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Day 2021, we honour all humanitarian workers who are saving lives and helping the most vulnerable in crises worldwide.

The selfless commitment and efforts of humanitarian and medical workers that strive every day, often in harsh conditions, to alleviate the suffering of millions in need, has been all the more remarkable since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. The virus is not, however, the worst threat they face. Regrettably, 108 humanitarian workers lost their lives and 125 were kidnapped in 2020. In 2021, there have been 105 major attacks against humanitarian workers so far.

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.

We reiterate our call on all parties to all 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.

Exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, the humanitarian response faces unprecedented challenges. The funding gap is widening while needs are becoming more complex. At the same time, the delivery of aid is becoming more difficult and dangerous. In this light, the European Commission will provide humanitarian funding of almost €11.5 billion over the period 2021-2027. Together, we will pave the way for the future of the UN 2030 Agenda, leaving no one behind.

We will continue to support those most in need for as long as it takes, while working closely with development partners to improve the resilience of vulnerable populations and address their needs in a comprehensive manner.

Background

World Humanitarian Day commemorates the anniversary of the 2003 bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, Iraq, when 22 humanitarian workers lost their lives.

The coronavirus pandemic has increased the number of those in need of humanitarian assistance. Additionally, civilians in conflict zones are routinely killed or wounded in targeted or indiscriminate attacks. United Nations (UN) estimates that almost 235 million people – 1 in 33 people worldwide – will need humanitarian assistance in 2021, an increase of 40% from 2020 (prior to COVID-19) and a near tripling since 2014. The number of forcibly displaced people has doubled since 2010, reaching 82.4 million by the end of 2020. Climate change further exacerbates people’s vulnerability to humanitarian crises. The eight most severe food crises are all related to both conflict and climate shocks. The EU, as second biggest donor of the UN system, provides the biggest share of its funding to the World Food Programme (WFP), followed by UNDP, UNICEF and UNHCR.

In 2020, EU humanitarian aid mobilised almost €2.1 billion for humanitarian aid operations in over 80 countries around the world, including the conflict-affected populations inside Syria and refugees in neighbouring countries and regions, the people affected by the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and vulnerable people affected by natural disasters worldwide.

The EU’s humanitarian actions are based on four main pillars:

1) Direct support to beneficiaries: continuity of care and access;

2) Direct support to health facilities: rehabilitation work for safer rooms and distribution of weapon wounded kits;

3) Awareness raising and advocacy for International Humanitarian Law: collection and documentation of attacks and seeking contact with relevant stakeholders;

4) Capacity building to make healthcare more resilient.

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