Imagine the courage, the life-defining optimism, it takes for a nurse who has led a safe, sheltered life in, say, one of Ireland’s bigger towns, to take their very first step into a crowded, sweaty ebola clinic in one to the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s cities, Beni or Butembo Goma, say, where 1,808 of 2,765 confirmed victims have died in the current outbreak which started last August.
Imagine the focus, imagine the grace, a doctor whose only experience of violence might have been a two-minute stampede to get a seat on a no-frills airline needs to continue working in the all-but-forgotten Syrian battleground around Idlib, where most operating theatres have been moved underground to try to survive air-raid bombing. In recent days, seven members of one family were killed there in an escalation of a Russian-backed offensive.
UN’s Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet recognised the fickleness of humanity’s concern when she pointed out that airstrikes that killed 103 people there in 10 days last month were met with “a collective shrug” from the international community. Ms Bachelet could make the very same point about the millions facing starvation in Yemen.
If missions to the DRC or Idlib might be described as the premiership of aid work then the tens of thousands of aid workers involved in rescue or development operations all around the world should not be forgotten either. Many of these work in settings every bit as demanding, often isolated and in jeopardy.
They, and their peers on the world’s battlelines, are remembered today, the 10th annual World Humanitarian Day. The scale of those operations is so dramatic that it must say something less than inspiring about humanity’s inability to live in harmony and to share the basic resources of our world.
There are, this morning, more than 130m people whose lives have been so uprooted by conflict or natural disaster that they rely on humanitarian assistance for their very survival. The majority of that need — 80% — is in conflict zones where aid workers are as threatened as those they hope to help. Last year that had fatal consequences for 131 aid workers, the second-highest toll since records began.
These figures will escalate as the character of so many national governments darkens. The social liberalism that shaped, or at least tried to shape, the West’s conscience for almost a century is being been pushed aside in many countries that once recognised obligations to the most vulnerable irrespective of their nationality. Now the charity-begins-at-home mantra seems in the ascendant, even if, ironically and dangerously, that will exacerbate the refugee crisis partially responsible for the rejuvenation of the right.
Ireland has, thankfully, continued to support aid work. In 2017, the Government spent €743.42m on our aid programme and announced a further €110m late last year in an effort to reach agreed international targets. Thousands of Irish people have committed a considerable proportion of their lives to development work. We should honour them by supporting their successors bravery and humanitarian objectives.