Politics of Poverty

World Humanitarian Day: A day to honor and commit to local humanitarians

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Zabelia Angulo, head of the Volunteer Brigade for Emergencies and Rehabilitation for the municipality of San Juan de Miraflores, Peru, looks out across the landscape where people have settled in makeshift homes on the steep slopes of the coastal mountains. "It’s very important that people at the community level know how to respond to emergencies, because this is their home, and it might take rescuers a long time to reach them. If outside aid providers don’t follow the community leaders, there are risks. They might deliver things people don’t need, or give things to the wrong people, or provide food that people aren’t used to eating." (Photo: Elizabeth Stevens / Oxfam)

Their sacrifice, commitment and leadership should be met with our support.

On this World Humanitarian Day, as we honor all humanitarian workers, we feel it is important to recognize local humanitarian actors: the dedicated and brave people around the world working in government, civil society, and their communities to prepare for and respond to disasters and conflicts.

Being a humanitarian is not only difficult work; it is also dangerous. This week’s news from South Sudan was absolutely horrific, and, while its scale and brutality stand out, the fact that aid workers were targeted with violence does not. In 2015, 109 aid workers were killed, 110 were wounded, and 68 were kidnapped, according to Humanitarian Outcomes’ excellent Aid Worker Security Report. Of these victims of violence, there were seven times more national staff as international staff – and in the hot spots of Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen, national staff  were 13 times more likely to be victims than international staff.

Why are national staff more frequently the targets of violence? There are more of them, for one thing (contrary to the media’s skewed coverage of humanitarian crises). And, no matter how risky a situation gets, local actors do not leave “their” country. Many don’t have that option. Many would not take the option even if they could. They are also responding to crises for longer: they are immediately “on the scene,” and they don’t depart once immediate aftermath of a crisis is over.

The great risk that local humanitarian actors face is one of the many reasons that Oxfam believes so passionately that local actors should be leading humanitarian preparedness and response in their countries: Considering that local actors do face such risk, they should be making the decisions about the best, most appropriate programming, and they should be treated as true partners with international organizations, not just as subcontractors.

So today is a day to honor all humanitarians, including Oxfam staff (national and expatriate), international aid workers, our partners, and the local humanitarians who strive daily to save lives and improve their communities.

Today is also a day for us to renew our commitment to turn the humanitarian system on its head so that local actors—government and civil society—are given:

  • Greater voice in the humanitarian action conducted in their own countries,
  • Greater support to develop their own capacity, and
  • Greater access to direct funding

— so they are able to lead humanitarian action in their homelands.

To this end, we commit to continuing to support them in any way they need:

  • Providing technical support;
  • Ensuring they have a strong voice in our partnerships;
  • Supporting their capacity strengthening;
  • Increasing our direct financial support;
  • Advocating alongside them to their governments; and
  • Working with other international actors to lead response efforts in conflicts and mega-crises where local actors may be unable to do so.

In other words, we are listening; we are standing in solidarity with you; and we honor you, today, and every day.


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