Commemorating World Humanitarian Day

Delivered on: 19 August 2013


Today, is a day of reflection.

Today, my friends and colleagues, is also a day of remembrance.

Today, we stand here, side-by-side and across the world, to honor our humanitarian family.


We especially remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. We give moments of reflection to those who have been killed in the line of duty with WFP. And, we also pay tribute to those who continue to help people around the world, regardless of who they are and regardless where they are.


I know that for many of us in WFP, today is a difficult day. This is the day when we gather together to take the time to think about the colleagues that we have lost throughout our working careers. I ask, when we think about them, we not only remember the loss, but we also remember their laughter, their commitment, their life, their smiles, and the joy that they brought.


Let us be thankful for this moment to pause and to reflect.  Please join hands with the person sitting next to you, as together we remember those that we have lost here at WFP.


As we cast our memories back, we recollect colleagues who—for many of us—once stood with us side-by-side. In doing this, we recognize that these dedicated women and men, were also dedicated friends, partners, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. They were our brave brothers and sisters who have given the ultimate sacrifice, in service of the world’s hungry poor.


Let us also not forget that many of those killed while working for WFP are part of our extended family. They are working for our partner organizations, for contractors and as casual laborers.


We remember the contribution of people like Mutawakil Abdella and his co-driver, Ibrahim Al Dahwi Hamid Al Digeel. A few months ago, these two men were stopped by armed men while driving a load of rations for distribution in South Kordofan. Unfortunately, Mutawakil was shot and he died, while his co-driver, Ibrahim, was thankfully left unharmed. Ibrahim drove through the night. He safely brought Mutawakil’s body to the nearest town. And then he drove on, without rest, for almost half-a-day to deliver food to the final WFP destination. That is sacrifice. That is WFP. Today we honor both these men.


This story represents just one example, many of you can think of other stories. In fact, last year we lost 14 partner staff, contractors and laborers in the line of duty. I ask you to give your thoughts to them also, for today we honor them as well.


People sometimes ask us, “Why? Why do we do this? Why do we put ourselves in harm’s way?” In answering this, I am reminded of the words of Sergio Vieira de Mello. It was 10 years ago today that Sergio lost his life, with 21 others in the bombing of the UN Office in Baghdad. Just like our staff in WFP. Sergio was a true humanitarian, even though he served most of his career with UNHCR. Sergio told us that “we must never forget that the real challenges and the real rewards are out there in the field, where people suffer and where people need us.”


Or our colleague, Luis from Panama summed up the motivation of many WFP staff, answering the question of why we do this. Luis told me: “It is giving everything, to serve other human beings who are in need of help, not only in emergencies, but whenever they need support, without thinking how one is feeling in that moment. That is who we are, that is what we do.”


Today, let us also acknowledge our colleagues, working in hardship duty stations, who face daily risk and daily hazards, where active hostilities prevail. I ask you to reach out and support them whenever you can. Let them not feel forgotten.


Yes, today we reflect.

Today we reflect on the ultimate sacrifices made by too many.

Today we reflect and give thanks for the sacrifices that so many of our colleagues are making to serve the needs of the hungry poor people who would not otherwise eat.


I ask you all to continue to keep our colleagues safe and out of harm. We here at WFP know better than most why we make these sacrifices. We serve the hungry poor who would otherwise not eat-- whenever, wherever. These are the people who are in need of help.


Today, in WFP, we reflect and we say we are here.


[Staff read messages from the Memorial Tree]


  • For Moses and Tom, who died in an ambush in South Sudan.

They are the latest casualties, but sadly we know they won’t be the last.


  • People die only when we forget them. You live in our hearts.


  • We will never forget their commitment and sacrifice for the betterment of those less fortunate.

May they rest in peace.


  • We’ve picked the quote from the 19th Century poet Walt Whitman, and while we honor our colleagues who have fallen today, this may equally apply to all those who suffer the privation and separation from family; all staff in the field that are currently out to work.

“Behold I do not give lectures or a little charity,

When I give, I give myself”


  • I just heard Rob saying "We were there that day".

    It’s been 10 years. Ten years since a suicide bomber drove a truck bomb into the Canal hotel, Baghdad, the base of humanitarian operations in Iraq. The blast was so powerful, the remains of the vehicle were barely visible. Twenty-two people died that day, including Sérgio Vieira de Mello, UN Special Representative for Iraq. Over 100 people were wounded. Our team was there that day. “We were lucky, we were amongst the wounded.”

    Our team was there on the 5 October 2009, when a bomb was set in the reception of the WFP office in Islamabad. When we lost Botan, Mohamed, Abid, Gulrukh and Farzana.

    Our colleagues were there on 11 December 2007, when a bomb exploded between the UN and the UNHCR buildings in Algiers, destroying part of the UN building, ‘levelling’ the UNHCR building and killing 16 UN staff. Amongst them, Maria, on mission in our Country Office.

    The World Humanitarian Day is to “recognize those who face danger and adversity in order to help others”. On this day, we remember our colleagues. And we pay a tribute to those who ‘faced danger and adversity’ in the aftermaths of those attacks, and rushed in to help in spite of the risks.

    I remember picking up the phone in the days after the 2003 attack, and telling people, “There will likely be another attack. It’s risky, but we need you to get in there and shift the previous team out”. In those days, people from Dubai and Rome said, “Yes” – and consequently endured a second bomb in Baghdad. And again they said “yes” in the days of Algiers, and in the days of Islamabad.

    World Humanitarian Day is about remembering those days, and those people. It’s about knowing that if it happened again, our colleagues would, in spite of the risk, again say, “Yes”.

    The WFP Dubai office




I thank you for giving life to our memorial tree.


Dear friends and colleagues, we honor the memory of a fallen colleague with every single leaf.


The tree is a universal symbol of refuge and strength. With each new season, the tree branches out. With every new leaf, there is a new symbol of vitality and life. Like WFP’s staff throughout the world, reaching out to help in crises old and new.


I ask you to please give a moment of silence to our fallen colleagues.