World Humanitarian Day: WHO honours people working in emergency situations

On World Humanitarian Day, 19 August, WHO honours the thousands of people working in emergencies and humanitarian response throughout the world, such as Dr Alaa Abu-Zaid, Coordinator of the Health Cluster, Mogadishu, Somalia

August 2012

For more than 20 years, Mogadishu has endured a chronic emergency situation, including the influx of thousands of internally displaced people fleeing insecurity and food shortages in southern parts of Somalia. In 2011, the country faced one of the worst famines in years.

A health worker attending to a mother and her children, Somalia.
WHO/P. Desloovere

Dr Alaa Abu-Zaid, Coordinator of the Health Cluster, is no stranger to humanitarian emergencies. Coordinating health partners and their activities in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, such as the Vaccination Week in April 2012, is risky business. Roadside bombs and stray bullets are a day-to-day reality in Mogadishu. In recent times, suicide bomb attacks have also become more common.

“A few months ago, a suicide bomb went off in Mogadishu during a high profile event in the national theatre, killing a number of sports officials,” he said. “We know the risks, but WHO believes that immunization services must be delivered to communities to save the lives of children.”

Preparing the second Vaccination Week

Moving from one place to another in Mogadishu is difficult and dangerous; but in April, despite the insecurities, WHO and other health partners worked together to launch the second Vaccination Week in Somalia. Dr Alaa and other WHO staff were key players of the Vaccination Week preparations. They met with different health partners, organized meetings and communicated with them, all in an effort to make Vaccination Week 2012 a success story in Mogadishu.

Humanitarian crises

More than 1.5 billion people – nearly a quarter of the world’s population – live in countries affected by violent conflict. Over the past decade, an average of 700 natural and technological disasters have been reported every year, affecting 270 million people. Three quarters of the 20 countries with the highest child mortality rates in the world are affected by violent conflict. Health is one of the most important aspects of humanitarian response.

World Humanitarian Day gives us the opportunity to show our appreciation to the thousands of workers like Dr Alaa Abu-Zaid who are working every day in difficult circumstances. Health is one of several critical dimensions of humanitarian response, and the sustainable recovery of people under hardship. We thank all of the health workers and colleagues working in other sectors in humanitarian response.