Written by Dr. Unni Krishnan, Director, Emergency Health Unit
Everyone has dreams. Some dreams are fabulous, some ambitious. When I met Tom last November, his dreams seemed almost impossible.
Tom was trying to build a health clinic in three days in the middle of nowhere. To be precise, Tom was in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh; home to the largest and perhaps the most overcrowded refugee camp in the world. He was working with Save the Children’s Emergency Health Unit, deployed to Bangladesh to provide life-saving support for Rohingya refugees who had fled Myanmar.
Families were arriving at the camp sick, malnourished, dehydrated and often traumatized. Disease outbreaks threatened further human suffering. This was the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world.
Humanitarian workers like Tom were working against the clock.
“Are you serious,” I challenged Tom. “How do you build a health clinic in three days?”
Tom is not a structural engineer and not a soldier in a military platoon with unlimited resources. He is, as he calls himself, “an ordinary water and sanitation engineer.”
But as a humanitarian worker he is equipped with three things – a clear mission, infectious optimism and deep compassion. These are powerful ingredients to make things happen on the frontlines of sheer devastation.
Why Be a Humanitarian Worker? Humanitarian work is about extending the spirit of humanity to people. If you look at the suffering in the world, is there an option not to be a humanitarian worker?
Today we are witnessing the highest levels of human displacement on record. More than 68 million people have been uprooted from their homes. Twenty-five million are refugees who have fled their countries to escape conflict and persecution – in actual numbers, this is more than the population of Australia.
In 2016, more than 560 million people’s lives were critically impacted by natural disasters. And approximately 815 million people will go hungry tonight. If you put all the hungry people in the world in one country, it would be the third most populous nation in the world after China and India.
It’s in these settings – in oceans of human suffering – that the efforts of Tom and his fellow humanitarian workers make the difference between life and death.
Besides the need for food, water, health care, emotional assistance and shelter in these circumstances, there is also a need to contend with fear. The fear of houses and hospitals being bombed, schools being burnt, children being orphaned, storms, floods, disease – it’s a long list, but frighteningly real in an increasing number of places.
Despite the odds, Tom and his team from the Emergency Health Unit went on to build the clinic, as well as eight other clinics and a primary health center that works around the clock in Cox’s Bazar. The big idea behind their work is to ensure that no child is left behind in the process of delivering life-saving health care and medical assistance within the turmoil of an emergency.
World Humanitarian Day On August 19, 2003, the then Special Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello, and 21 of his colleagues were killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.
World Humanitarian Day is marked each year on 19 August. It’s a day we pay tribute to those who have lost their lives in humanitarian service, and to celebrate the selfless service of humanitarian workers.
Humanitarian workers are agents of compassion when the world turns upside down. Most of the real humanitarian heroes are often invisible; ordinary local volunteers who do extraordinary work to pull people from bombed war zones or from earthquake rubble long before international aid arrives on the scene.
They can’t stop the storms, the wars or the outbreaks of diseases. But they can provide healing. They can’t stop the next disaster. But they can reduce the severity of human suffering.
Their work reminds us of a simple truth – compassion is an index of humanity. Imagine the state of the world without it.
Collaboration – A Catalyst What we do today depends a lot on what we do with others. Challenging a storm’s fury or the ruthless perpetrators of a genocide is not something humanitarian workers can do alone. It requires the combined efforts of various players – governments, media, civil society and UN systems.
World Humanitarian Day reminds us that collaboration and compassion are two powerful forces that can make the world less brutal and a more beautiful place where we all can live and where children can thrive.
To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to deliver lifesaving emergency response, visit our website.
Written by Michael Klosson, Vice President Policy & Humanitarian Response
There are days when visiting my Save the Children colleagues on the front lines of our humanitarian response work in Rakhine State in Myanmar, refugee communities in Jordan, drought stricken communities in Kenya or insecure villages in South Sudan I believe that every day should be World Humanitarian Day.
Such recognition 365 days a year would provide us all fitting opportunities to stand in solidarity with the massive number of people whose lives have been turned upside down whether by conflict or disaster. We are seeing, for example, an unprecedented number of people, climbing past 68 million this year, who have been forced out of their homes. It is estimated that 134 million people in 40 countries need assistance and only one third of the necessary funds to meet such needs have been provided half way through the year. Such year-long recognition would also pay tribute to extraordinary efforts of local, national and international aid workers who themselves face hardship, sometimes even death, to help others at their most vulnerable stage.
These thoughts ran through my mind when I visited recently with mothers and village elders in a community in Wajir County, Kenya. We sat in the shade of a spreading banyan tree and discussed Save the Children’s work last year to help them overcome malnutrition stemming from the severe drought in East Africa.
One mother, wrapped in green with a blue head scarf, pointed to her child cradled in her arms. She told us that her child was alive today only because of the cash transfer program we initiated last year enabling families to support themselves when their livestock had all perished.
The community said that things had been better last year than in the big drought of 2011 because the county had built a dispensary nearby, and we had supported it with provision of water. But the village elder and mothers had no clear answer to the question of how they would rebuild and be better able to face the next drought. They “would just do what they always do” was the response.
We all can take satisfaction in the fact that world and national leaders, together with many others, rallied in 2017 and helped stave off the specter of widespread famine in East Africa. Thanks to our collective efforts, one hears stories such as this one across the entire region. But I came away from my visit troubled: parents and children in Wajir County were getting back on their feet, but their legs were no stronger to withstand the next challenge. Should we not use this period of respite to help such communities take actions that will better prepare them to face such hardship?
Clearly the answer is a strong “yes.”
That leads me back to World Humanitarian Day, but with a new reflection. This day is a moment to acknowledge the importance of helping others in dire need and to recognize the great lengths that humanitarian workers go to provide such help. In today’s world, however, it should also be a moment to recognize that humanitarian work writ large is not just for humanitarians. It’s a moment to reaffirm that helping the more than hundred million people around the world deal in a sustainable fashion with the dire need they face must be a shared responsibility.
At a moment when crises are large-scale and protracted, this work has to involve a team effort of humanitarian aid workers, development workers as well as those involved in conflict resolution and diplomacy. It has to involve a blend of financing and approaches.
We all have a role to play in helping communities persevere, get back on their feet and face the next challenge with greater resilience. World Humanitarian Day is a day to recognize the role we must all play with humanitarians in this team effort.
To learn more about the work Save the Children has done to deliver lifesaving emergency response, visit our website.
Today, some of the biggest challenges for children and families are those caught in the crossfire of conflict. The children of Yemen face unrelenting hunger and suffering. Every day, our dedicated humanitarian aid workers are there to help them survive, and thrive, despite the dire situation. Jeremy Stoner, Regional Operations and Humanitarian Response Director at Save the Children Middle East and Eastern Europe Regional Office is one such humanitarian. Here is his story.
Written by Jeremy Stoner
Sana’a to Haddjah… I left Sana’a, Yemen’s largest city, on Wednesday morning accompanied by the Director of Safety and Security. Together, we headed
for Haddjah Governorate in the north of Yemen which shares a border with Saudi Arabia. Having stopped by in Arum, where Save the Children also has a field office, to briefly the meet the staff, we climbed, seemingly incessantly, through breathtaking scenery and arrived at Haddjah City. The beauty of the area is marked by cascading terraced agriculture recently planted to catch the first of the rains rendering the mountains with a fresh green hue.
A Country at War It is easy to be seduced by so much natural beauty but there are always reminders that Yemen is a country at war – a war which has been so devastating to 22 million people – the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. There are regular reminders of the war in Yemen at different points in the journey. While our minds are focused very much on Hodeida, where a fresh wave of violence has seen bombing escalate and deadly clashes erupt, they are also with the millions of children directly and indirectly affected by the volatile civil war, now in its fourth year.
Even a simple journey requires elaborate planning to ensure it is as safe as possible. Somewhere in Yemen and on a daily basis, we can’t actually access some of the neediest children simply because we aren’t granted permission. There are so many complications to delivering for children in Yemen but, despite that, we continue to be on the ground, working to help the most vulnerable survive and stay safe.
Arriving In Haddjah and Meeting the Team
The town of Haddjah is dispersed over a number of mountains and hillsides and has incredible views over the dramatic countryside. Save the Children opened an office here in January 2017 but had been supporting the area from other offices prior to that. The Field Manager for our Haddjah office showed good leadership during our visit and clearly manages strong relationships internally with the team and externally with local authorities. His enthusiasm and passion for the work is clear. The other members of the team also demonstrated similar levels of commitment and enthusiasm which was a great foundation for our visit to see our water, sanitation and health work in Baniqais District.
Before departing, we shared breakfast with the Director General of the National Authority for Management Work. He oversees the humanitarian efforts in Haddjah and he is clear about the issues and the needs in both Haddjah and its surrounding districts. He spoke very highly, not just of the work that we are doing on the ground, but also of the excellent relationship that the authorities and Save the Children have built.
We left the city on Thursday morning and headed down through the mountains to Baniqais District, an area considered to be the poorest within Haddjah. From the relative cool of the mountains the contrast in the valleys way below couldn’t be stronger. A searing heat greeted us as we stepped out of the vehicle to have a look at the central water tank that Save the Children has put in to serve the Health Centre and nearby houses in the local community (funded by UN OCHA). It is a serious-looking tank fed by a network of eleven wells, also supported by Save the Children. The quality of construction of these wells and the central tank itself looks good with each having a solar pump attached to feed water to the central tank near the Health Centre.
Later we visited the Health Centre itself to see more of the rehabilitation work that we have been supporting there (also UN OCHA funded). We have added a small laboratory and clinic on site for malaria which might be unusual for a Health Centre. However, the plans are to convert this Health Centre into a District Hospital to serve this desperately poor and under-resourced district. We will be able to achieve this dream with a second round of funding from OCHA which we expect shortly. Under this phase of funding, we also intend to extend our water, sanitation and health (WASH) work to cover more of the District’s water needs. This will hugely relieve the burden on women and especially girls who can be seen carrying water for 5 or 6 KMs from the nearest well to their homes. Water carrying can be the single most important contributing factor to girls dropping out of school early which is barely thinkable.
The water system was working perfectly during my visit with plenty of fresh water available throughout the clinic! We visited on a Thursday, which is the weekend in Yemen, and so the Health Centre was technically closed. However, they do operate a 24-hour service for health emergencies.
Thank goodness for this, as I saw a boy who must have been about 4 years old brought to the clinic with severe diarrhea by his brother who himself was only 10 or 11 years old. The staff examined the boy for acute diarrhea as well as cholera. They would have to send a sample to Sana’a to confirm the boy’s condition, as they don’t currently have the equipment to diagnose cholera. They do, however, have the basic equipment to test for malaria.
One of the doctors showed me the log of cases that he keeps explaining that the peak months for malaria in this region are January thru March. In March of this year alone, 1,200 malaria cases were dealt with by the Health Centre. Now, the number of cases is down to around 150 or so.
I met the pharmacist of the Health Centre who, for the time being, had a good supply of basic drugs including antibiotics and ant-malarial drugs. Just these two types of drugs save children’s lives and it feels good to know that Save the Children is supporting health centers like this across Yemen. The Centre also has a dedicated nutrition section where mothers get advice on the best food for their children, based on what is available locally, and malnourished children can get support. In this district alone, food baskets are given to 1,200 families every month with special food for children to build them back to their ideal weight.
The Health Centre management team were present and provided us with a thorough tour of the facilities. Again, people were delighted with the support that the team have been providing and enthusiastic that the Centre can become a District Hospital to serve the most deprived people in the Governorate.
Haddjahh Hospital and Pediatric Unit
We returned from the district to Haddjah City where our first stop was the hospital. It is the Authority of Al-Gamhori Hospital or the main hospital in Haddjahh. Here, Save the Children has installed an impressive solar power system on the hospital’s roof. A truly huge array of panels that provide electricity to the hospital – light and fans so that they can deliver essential tertiary services to the Governorate population (about 2.2 million). Close by to the hospital, we have renovated a large building which will become the pediatric unit for children at Governorate level. This will provide children’s health care at the Governorate level from nutrition, to curing childhood killer diseases and nutrition support to mothers and their children – can’t wait to hear about its progress once it is up and running!
Delivering in Conflict Reflecting on Save the Children’s amazing 614 staff and numerous volunteers in the Yemen Program, it is clear that they are working under incredibly difficult circumstances but able to serve some of the neediest children in the world. Many staff remain in Haddjah during the week, only returning to their families on the weekends.
As the Program gears up to our highest level of humanitarian response, I was left with a strong sense of hope. This is built on the excellent staff that I met both national and international combined with some really powerful work on the ground for vulnerable children and communities – excellent! The incredible thing is that, despite the war and the suffering in such a massive and complex crisis, we are absolutely delivering what is needed and are looking to do even more!