Time for Humanitarian Climate Change

On August 19 it was exactly ten years ago that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello and more than twenty aid workers were killed in a bomb attack in Bagdad. Five years ago, the UN General Assembly decided to designate August 19 as World Humanitarian Day. It is a day to reflect on the work of all those volunteers and professionals everywhere in the world who devote themselves to human rights and humanitarian help, sometimes in the face of the same dangers as the people they help.

Attention for humanitarian aid and aid workers is still very much needed. The humanitarian climate is changing under the influence of the economic troubles and growing skepticism about the effectiveness of development aid. It is perfectly acceptable, even necessary, to take a critical look at how we structure development aid and cooperation, but we cannot stand by idly when people are in danger of losing their lives and emergency aid is really needed. In such cases we must take our responsibility.

In the past few years I have visited several refugee camps and regions that depend on emergency aid. I realize how privileged I am, and many others with me. And I also realize how big the impact of wars, natural disasters and climate change can be. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. And if it happens to you you're grateful that others people are there to help, as many of us or our ancestors have been as well.

I am therefore happy and proud that DSM, too, can take this responsibility. We are doing this in our own way, in the field in which we can make a difference for people in need, building on our own strengths and expertise. Through the World Food Programme DSM is closely involved in the activities of the United Nations. Hundreds of millions of people rely on humanitarian aid for safe and nutritious food, and the World Food Programme provides such food. The program is concerned not only with quantities and logistics; nowadays the quality and nutritious value of food are receiving increasing attention. The focus is on food having the nutritious value that prevents hunger as well as 'hidden hunger' (vitamin and mineral deficits). We use our knowhow and expertise for instance to enrich food with micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, the essential building blocks for the human body. This is our way of helping to improve humanitarian food aid for the benefit of millions of people worldwide each year.

My visits have given me the opportunity to see and experience how indispensable and meaningful the efforts of the aid workers are. And I have also seen what dangers these people face. They have my deepest respect. These aid workers deserve the support and appreciation of the public at large, of governments and of businesses, on World Humanitarian Day, and on every other day of the year. World Humanitarian Day is a perfect opportunity to reflect on the work of aid workers and on the role that we--as society and as organizations--can play in supporting their work. It's a day to think about our responsibilities: how can we--how can I--ensure that aid workers can continue to do their humanitarian work and further improve its effectiveness?

But it's also a day to work on aid prevention. By teaching local people how to provide their own food, for instance by means of "school-feeding programs" via which people get educated when helping them with their basic need. But also by addressing climate change, whose effects, in a sinister twist of fate, are now being felt most severely in the poorest regions of the world, like Bangladesh and the Horn of Africa. In these efforts, business can and must, in my opinion, play a bigger role than it has done so far. 'Taking care of society' is not the exclusive domain of governments. Businesses have often the knowledge, the capacity and the means to provide care and aid. DSM is doing this in the field of nutrition. Other companies have other expertise that is as least as valuable. United Business, that's how I call this. Together with governments we can save lives.

Let us honor all these thousands of aid workers this week and show them that we appreciate their work and are ready to support it. But let us also not forget to take our responsibility on all other days of the year and jointly work towards an urgently needed 'humanitarian climate change' by supporting them and by developing structural solutions.

Feike Sijbesma
In 2010, Feike Sijbesma was awarded the Humanitarian Award of the Year by the United Nations Association of New York.

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