Aid Agencies: Gov'ts Must Allow Us to Reach Vulnerable Communities

Governments must honor their commitments to allow aid agencies access to vulnerable communities, insists a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development and social service groups.

Caritas Internationalis, whose members help 24 million people a year in 200 countries and territories, said this past week that its ability to bring support to the most vulnerable people in conflicts has been severely restricted by the actions of governments over the last 18 months.

"From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Georgia to Gaza, Sri Lanka to Sudan, we're seeing the erosion of one of the central pillars of humanitarianism: Aid agencies must be allowed to reach the most vulnerable people in conflicts," commented Caritas Internationalis Humanitarian Director Alistair Dutton as the world marked the first World Humanitarian Day this past week.

In Zimbabwe, for example, the government suspended all aid agency field operations following its contested elections.

In Sudan's Darfur region, meanwhile, the government expelled 13 international NGOs from the country.

"Governments must use this first World Humanitarian Day reassert their commitment to safeguarding this principle as part of their obligations under the Geneva Conventions," Dutton insisted.

Established by the General Assembly (GA) of the United Nations last December, the World Humanitarian Day this past Wednesday was a way to increase public understanding of humanitarian assistance activities worldwide.

It was also created in dedication to the memory of all those aid workers who have lost their lives while bringing assistance to others – the majority of them from the communities they are trying to help.

Last year, 260 humanitarians were victims of murder, kidnapping and serious injury. Ten years earlier, only 69 humanitarians were reportedly involved in security incidents.

In a statement for World Humanitarian Day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States is calling upon "all governments and parties in conflict to give their highest attention to the safety and security of humanitarian personnel."

"We are inspired by these workers' personal dedication to humanitarian principles, especially in the face of grave danger," she stated.

"We honor their service, and we congratulate their successes," she concluded.

Next year's World Humanitarian Day, like this year's, will be held on Aug. 19.