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Like the women in Somalia pictured here, it is local people across the world who know best what it is they need to reach beyond impoverishment in a world rife with inequality. (Photo: Petterik Weggers/Oxfam)

Challenging the Injustice and Inequality Driving Crises: Marking World Humanitarian Day

Winnie Byanyima

 by Oxfam International

Our world is becoming a more dangerous place. Crises are intensifying. And the people who are most poor and vulnerable are always left suffering the consequences.

That is what we must remember as we mark World Humanitarian Day this year.

Almost 60 million people have been driven from their homes by violence and conflict, more than at any time since the Second World War. After that war, the world laid out fundamental rights in landmark agreements from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the Refugee Convention and the Geneva Conventions at the heart of international humanitarian law. Seventy years on, those rights are flagrantly violated in countless humanitarian crises.

Women, men and children have fundamental rights to humanitarian assistance and protection. Yet far too many states block aid and attack their own citizens, and too many others - including some of the world's wealthiest countries - turn their back on those fleeing conflict and violence.

That is what gives me a passion to change things. What gives me faith that we are the humanitarian heroes who Oxfam works with around the world.

Although Oxfam began as a committee of people in Oxford, UK, who were concerned about human suffering around the world, today our humanitarian work is carried out primarily by people from the affected countries who work locally for Oxfam and our partner organizations.

One of them is Jihad Abdul-Ghani, Oxfam's public health engineer working with Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon. This is a humanitarian crisis caused entirely by politics and injustice in a world wearying of giving anything like enough aid, leaving Lebanon, Jordan and other neighbouring countries to host the overwhelming majority of Syrians fleeing their homeland.

What drives him is his determination to help others. "I used to work in construction. Back then, I cared more about the salary than the stories of the people who were going to live in the building. Today, as a humanitarian worker, I care about the people who are going to drink from the water tanks."

But it is not just about providing relief. It is about challenging the injustice and inequality that drives humanitarian crises. If there's one thing that makes Oxfam different in the crowded world of humanitarian agencies, that is what I want it to be. And as I do so, I want to listen to another one of my colleagues, Namaru Florence, in South Sudan.

Namaru is a food security officer in a country still threatened with hunger, but where 15 areas in the last year were not declared "emergency food insecure" because of the aid provided by humanitarian workers like her. She yearns of "a long time ago" when South Sudan gained independence in 2011 and before conflict broke out. But "I am a humanitarian," she says, "because I believe there is still hope." Her humanitarian work is vital right now, but it is also inspired by a vision of a safer, better, more just future.

That's what Oxfam is about too. Oxfam will continue to work in solidarity with allies, partners and local communities to provide aid. And to act together to change the harmful policies that spark humanitarian crises and deepen people's vulnerability to them in the first place.

On this World Humanitarian Day, we rededicate ourselves to that purpose, and remember the tens of millions of people struggling in humanitarian crises, not only for survival, but for justice, and for their voices to be heard.


© 2021 Oxfam International
Winnie Byanyima

Winnie Byanyima

Winnie Byanyima is the executive director of Oxfam International. She is a leader on women’s rights, democratic governance and peace building. She served eleven years in the Ugandan Parliament, and has served at the African Union Commission and as Director of Gender and Development at the United Nations Development Program.

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