Global celebration: World Humanitarian Day

On Sunday 19 August people all over the world will take part in the annual World Humanitarian Day. Ben East shares the history behind the cause and takes a look at how Dubai’s International Humanitarian City will mark the day in the UAE  

In 2008, the United Nations General Assembly designated 19 August ‘World Humanitarian Day’ (WHD) to raise public awareness of humanitarian assistance worldwide and to recognize people who risk their lives to help people in need - wherever they are.
Today 62 million people desperately need humanitarian aid around the world. Their lives and livelihoods have been shattered by conflict, hunger and disaster. Humanitarian organizations and workers continue to work hard on the ground to save lives and help communities prepare better for future crises. Their commitment should be appraised worldwide.

WHD is, as the organisation says, “a global celebration of people helping people”. And it truly does have a global reach: Beyonce’s I Was Here video, a song she has dedicated to the initiative, will be broadcast on big screens in New York City, Geneva, Addis Ababa and at 7pm in Dubai Mall, where there will also be a showcase of humanitarian work across the globe.

Her Excellency Shaima Al Zarooni, Chief Executive of International Humanitarian City in Dubai, believes it is crucial to mark the day in the UAE. “Because of its status as one of the world’s three strategic hubs for distributing humanitarian assistance, Dubai’s position in the world is increasingly vital,” she points out.

In fact, it’s possible to suggest WHD’s natural home is actually Dubai - the International Humanitarian City (IHC) was set up not only with the intention of becoming the biggest base for global aid distribution in the world, but to reflect the belief among Emiratis right through to HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai that there is a moral obligation to be at the heart of humanitarian aid. Indeed, HH Sheikh Mohammed's wife HRH Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein is a UN Messenger of Peace and Chairperson of the IHC, which now hosts eight UN agencies and over 40 international non-profit and commercial organizations working in the field.

And this belief extends to a number of prominent UAE organisations that have been keen to lend their support to the cause. Emaar Properties PJSC, Dubai Media Incorporated and the 2020 World Expo have all played a part in making World Humanitarian Day 2012 in Dubai a success.

HE Al Zarooni highlights that WHD is not so much about asking for money as an opportunity to get in the habit of thinking about people less fortunate than ourselves – however close-at-hand they might be. The website,, suggests that could be as simple as helping someone with their shopping on Sunday. The idea is that, by “adding your voice” via Twitter or Facebook, the ‘I Was Here’ message will be simultaneously shared across the world – and perhaps become the biggest social media message in history.

Asking for time and thought rather than money is a bold idea. But, in the end, that’s why it’s rather apt that WHD this year coincides with Eid, the Muslim festival celebrating the end of Ramadan, because wherever the location, the message is of hope – and a belief in humanity.

World Humanitarian Day is on Sunday. For more information go to