On World Humanitarian Day, our Emergency Programmes Manager, Anne Marie McCarthy reflects on what it means to be a humanitarian at a time when there is an unprecedented crises happening globally.

Anne Marie McCarthy, Plan International Ireland’s Emergencies’ Programme Manager reports live from Jordan where we are working on the ground in refugee camps.

I was on deployment in Democratic Republic of Congo in 2015 when I found out on Twitter that the organisation I was working with at the time was going to respond to the earthquake in Nepal. We had no internet connection all day and that evening when we went out, I saw that the first response team were on their way to Nepal. I was part of the second wave of staff to go to Nepal a few weeks later, and while things had settled a little, it was still chaotic with a lot of work to do. Fifteen hour days were the norm and there was little in the way of work-life balance. While initial distributions of tarpaulins and hygiene kits had been made, with the monsoons coming, we needed to source galvanised sheeting as the next response, which would afford better protection from the elements during the wet season.  This was challenging given the difficulties of procuring the sheeting and the logistical challenges of delivering 2 bundles of 60kg of steel sheeting to community members in the mountains where the roads had been badly damaged.

Organisations were stretched with the numbers of crises to respond to – Ebola was still an issue in West Africa, Burundi was in crisis, the Syrian crisis was impacting on that whole region, and then the earthquake happened. Then, as now, the humanitarian community was struggling to respond, both in terms of financial, but also human resources.  Not since World War II have there been so many people displaced, and for many of the crises, it doesn’t look like we are close to a solution. According to the UN, 101.2 million people are in need of assistance. $23.5b is needed to meet these needs.

I am writing this from Amman, Jordan. Yesterday I visited one of the camps housing Syrian refugees. While the conditions were difficult, they were so much better than in other camps, for example in the North-east of Nigeria, where the UN estimate that they only have funding to cover approximately 30% of the needs there.

People think of humanitarian aid workers as action people, always out doing something practical, distributing things to people in need, and in any response there are many practical things that need to be done. Less visible are the support staff, planning, organising and providing care to others. I have never personally distributed anything, but count myself among those who support responses, writing proposals and making sure we did what we said we were going to do.

When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them, the response of many is “aren’t you great”, but I don’t think so. I am just lucky that I can do a job I enjoy. It can be a bit dangerous sometimes, as many of the crises in the world involve conflict, and aid workers can be targeted. Over the past 20 years, 1,449 aid workers were wounded while doing their job. The theme of this year’s World Humanitarian Day is #NotATarget, which aims to highlight the challenges faced by aid workers but also the millions of people trapped in crises not of their making.  We must also acknowledge the particular challenges women and girls face who are the most vulnerable in any crisis.

Since Nepal, I have been deployed to Somalia, Nigeria, Cameroon and South Sudan, in various roles.  Just today as I write this, there are newspaper reports about mudslides in Sierra Leone and floods in Nepal, and an armed attack on the city of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. The needs are huge, but organisations such as Plan International Ireland are working under difficult circumstances around the world to reach affected communities.

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