Marking World Humanitarian Day in 2021

By Barbara Grantham, President and CEO, CARE Canada

Every year on World Humanitarian Day (August 19th), CARE recognizes and honours humanitarian workers around the world who risk their lives supporting families affected by violence, food insecurity, natural disasters, and health crises like COVID-19.

For most, working as a humanitarian is more than a job. It's a calling.

I am honoured to be part of an organization that is a global leader in addressing humanitarian crises. When I first began my work at CARE Canada, no one imagined that my journey would begin in the middle of a pandemic—one that added yet another threat to the health, safety, and livelihoods of those who are already most vulnerable around the world: women and girls.

Women and girls often eat last and least in times of drought or famine, experience increased risk of sexual violence during times of conflict or displacement, and face barriers to their entry and participation in the workforce around the world. On top of this, women and girls often have little or no say in humanitarian response planning and decision-making. CARE works tirelessly to address these barriers and ensure that women and girls participate and lead in the planning and decision-making in the communities where they live.

In 2021, as the world continues to collectively respond to COVID-19, existing crises continue to grow, often exacerbated by the pandemic. Meanwhile, new crises seemingly emerge each day, as we’ve just seen this past week in Haiti and Afghanistan. The pandemic has added one more layer of complexity to an already fragile global humanitarian context.

Health systems around the world have been decimated by the pandemic. Support that was once available for women and girls—such as sexual and reproductive health services and gender-based violence prevention and assistance for survivors—has greatly diminished because resources are being diverted to respond to the pandemic.

Globally, acute hunger is increasing in scale and severity. According to the World Food Programme’s 2021 Global Report on Food Crises, overall, over 41 million people worldwide are currently at risk of falling into famine or famine-like conditions unless they are supported with immediate life-saving assistance. Another 132 million more people may face hunger because of COVID-19.

And for the first time in 30 years, hard won human development gains are at risk of being lost, pushing a further 150 million people into extreme poverty according to the World Bank.

It is hard not to feel hopeless when faced with the state of the world. And yet, I am inspired each day by CARE’s staff and partners around the world, by our colleagues in partner organizations, by our supporters and donors, and most importantly by the strength and determination of the people we seek to serve.

Things are not hopeless. We can all do something to help those in need—however small this action may seem to be. We can learn more about what’s happening beyond our front doors and our own countries. We can ask our leaders to create more opportunities for women’s leadership and participation in decision-making. We can call for increased investment in local partners and actors, ensuring the communities that are directly affected by crisis are heard, have rights, and hold power.

Critically, we can also support humanitarian workers who are working each and every day to bring relief to those most at risk around the world.

Humanitarian workers—who risk their lives and are committed to helping people most affected by violence, food insecurity, natural disasters, and now COVID-19—need increased international support and commitment to reverse the threats to the health, safety, and livelihoods of women and girls around the world.

The only thing we can’t afford to do is nothing.

With challenge always comes opportunity. While the pandemic’s grip is easing slowly in wealthy countries, it will never be under control anywhere until it’s under control everywhere. And when half of the world’s population is excluded from leadership, their needs unmet and their voices unheard, it affects us all.

How we act now will determine the legacy we leave for future generations. So in this moment, each of us needs to ask ourselves, what is the legacy I want to leave and what is one thing I can do today?