Committing to action for shared humanity

*Op-ed by Bishow Parajuli

Today, we commemorate the World Humanitarian Day which comes on the heels of the World Humanitarian Summit, the most pivotal moment in the history of humanitarian action, held in May 2016 in Turkey.

At the summit, over 9,000 participants from 173 Member States, including 55 Heads of State and Government, hundreds of private sector representatives, and thousands of people from civil society and non-governmental organizations agreed to deliver better humanitarian assistance for the 130 million vulnerable people all over the world.

World Humanitarian Day provides us with unique opportunity to pay tribute to humanitarian workers who strive daily, in remote and harsh conditions away from their loved ones to save lives of fellow humans and at times paying their lives in line of duty - the service of humanity.

Globally, the United Nations and its humanitarian personnel coordinate a $20.1 billion appeal for humanitarian needs of 87.6 million people and provides food and non-food assistance to some 80 million people in 80 countries. In addition, the United Nations assists and protects over 59 million people fleeing war, famine, and persecution; and fights extreme poverty, helping to improve the livelihoods of more than one billion people.

The United Nations protects and promotes human rights on site through some 80 treaties and declarations. It also supplies vaccines for 40% of the world’s children, helping save 3 million lives a year while providing access to education to millions of children. We also support maternal health, helping 30 million women survive pregnancy and childbirth and keep peace with over 125,000 peacekeepers in 16 operations on four continents.

The World Humanitarian Day also allows us to reflect and renew our unrelenting efforts to promote peace; end hunger; war and conflict; suffering; and eventually achieve freedoms from want and fear. These humanitarian declarations are not farfetched: we have unprecedented advanced technology, science and wealth that could uplift one billion fellow human beings who live in abject poverty and to end the misery of over 800 million who go to bed hungry every day.

Here in the Southern Africa region, El Nino-induced drought, the worst drought in 35 years, has affected the entire region including Zimbabwe giving additional humanitarian challenge. According to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), an estimated 41 million people in the region are food insecure, out of whom more than 21 million are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

In Zimbabwe, as the result of the drought, some 4.1 million rural people will not only be food insecure during the peak hunger period of January to March 2017 but the situation also threatens to reverse the development gains we have made over the past five years to resuscitate basic social services.

In response to the Government’s Appeal issued in February 2016, the United Nations, humanitarian partners and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) developed a Humanitarian Response Plan through a collaborative and joined-up efforts. The focus of the plan is to save lives, while ensuring linkages to early recovery and resilience building programmes.

To ensure a holistic and multi-sectoral response, the Humanitarian Response Plan covers: Food Security and Agriculture; Health and Nutrition; Water, Sanitation and Hygiene; Education; and, Protection.  Of the $360 million requested for the period of April 2016 – March 2017, nearly $190 million has been committed enabling the UN and humanitarian partners to reach 1.5 million people with relief assistance. Given the rise of affected population to 4.1 million, the response plan currently being revised.

The funding to the humanitarian response plan, thus far, has been made possible by the generosity from Governments of the USA, UK, China, the European Union and the UN Central Emergency Relief Fund and many others.

The United Nations has been increasingly voicing concern on the plight of the drought affected Zimbabweans to ensure that all sectors in the Humanitarian Response Plan are adequately funded.

Since the onset of the drought, thus far, over 1.5 million people have received food assistance, through in-kind assistance and cash-based transfers from WFP and a number of NGOs such as CARE, Save the Children, and World Vision. In addition, over 8,000 households received subsidized survival stock feed saving 13,000 cattle from deaths from FAO.

A total of 270 boreholes and 3 piped water schemes were rehabilitated, restoring safe water supply to nearly 75,000 people by UNICEF. And over 100,000 people were reached with critical life-saving water, sanitation and hygiene non-food items and messages. Moreover, over 65,000 people received non-food items and over 200,000 children were screened for malnutrition and provided with nutritional support by UN and NGOs.

These are commendable joint efforts and have averted any loss of human life. However, we have to redouble our efforts to match the increasing crisis with adequate and timely resources. The drought remains of great concern and continues to deprive people access to basic amenities such as food, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene and threatens their lives with water-borne diseases; aggravated school drop-outs; pushing women and young girls to resort to negative coping mechanisms which might reverse the gains made in combating the spread of HIV and AIDS.

In this regard continued support from partners to reach the increasing humanitarian needs of the affected vulnerable population with adequate support is critical and very urgent. In line with the theme of this year’s World Humanitarian Day “One Humanity”, we call on all humanitarian partners for a continued solidarity with and increased support to the more than four million rural Zimbabweans who will need humanitarian assistance to survive and resuscitate their livelihoods.

I would like to recognize the leadership of the Government of Zimbabwe to the ongoing drought response efforts. It will be amiss not to recognize the excellent role of the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in the overall humanitarian response efforts. NGOs remain instrumental in the drought relief efforts with their physical presence within the communities we all strive to serve and their experience in implementing relief programmes at grassroots level.

Beyond the ongoing drought response, the United Nations, through the 2016-2020 Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework will support Zimbabwe in enhancing preparedness and disaster risk reduction capacities at all levels and support early recovery, resilience-building and long-term development programmes.

Together, let us take action for a safer and more humane world for the most vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe, and let us also recognize and appreciate the people who devote their lives to helping those in need.

Bishow Parajuli is United Nations Resident Coordinator & UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe