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The need for a United Nations in Modern times

Mahatma Gandhi had once said, "Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it."

These words are a reflection of the pervasive and deeply embedded problems in the world. People, irrespective of their caste, creed, religion, race or gender can unexpectedly encounter life altering and devastating events in their lives owing to political instability, terrorism, militancy, food scarcity, drought, flood, earthquake, epidemic, economic turmoil, etc. There are times when even their sovereign government fails to take effective action or worse, lets the situation precipitate. The Syrian war and Yemen conflict are the most recent examples of a severe humanitarian crisis. The chemical attack in Syria in 2018 left hundreds of people to perish under the sky on open grounds trying to run away from their own bodies. The injured first had to be washed from a distance with water before anyone could approach and cater to their wounds. Millions in Yemen are sleeping on half-full or even empty stomach, suffering with diseases which can be easily cured but for the lack of availability of medicines many are on the verge of collapse. Can you imagine dying because of cough and cold in modern times?


The crisis in Venezuela is of a different kind altogether. The government's inefficient and overconfident management of their economy has led to hyperinflation. People are committing crimes to procure basic food items. Mass migrations are taking place, people are forced to leave their childhood homes, disenfranchised of their hard earned worldly possessions only to become refugees or worse, illegal immigrants. The Rohingyas are facing something which one wouldn't wish for an enemy. The UNHCR has termed the violent actions of Myanmar's army amounting to ethnic cleansing. Their homes were burnt and women were raped. They were forced to flee their homes and become the world's largest stateless community. There is no justice for them, only deportation centres where the basic necessities of human life are barely met. The governments in these countries seem incapable of catering to the needs of their people.

In times like these, the United Nations along with various individual sovereign states undertakes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations by sending peacekeeping troops, medical aid, etc. These peacekeeping forces do not favour anything else but humanity. It is our duty to recognize the type of work they perform under extreme and sometimes hostile conditions. But what if these saviours of humankind themselves come under attack?

This is exactly what happened on the unfortunate day of 19th August 2003 when a truck loaded with bombs rammed into the Canal Hotel building in Iraq which the United Nations had been using since 1990 as its headquarters. Several casualties occurred, only this time it was the agents of peace under attack. The UN Special Representative in Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello, who had dedicated 30 years of his life to highlight the plight of victims of armed conflict was among them. Following this horrific event, UN General Assembly designated 19th August as the World Humanitarian Day to recognize humanitarian personnel and those who lost their lives working for humanitarian causes. It was commemorated for the first time in 2009. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) was previously established in 1991 to strengthen UN's response to complex exigencies and disasters and has since been working tirelessly to assist and supplement local efforts in testing times.

India is among the top three peacekeeping forces contributors in the world and has been recognized for its HADR operations worldwide. It has a history of taking in refugees and providing them with necessary means of living. Tibetans, Afghans, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans, etc. have sought refuge in the past. Humanitarian assistance under Operation NISTAR by Indian Navy due to the destruction by cyclone Mekunu in Oman and Socotra Island is a recent example.

However, it is not only the United Nations or a single country which can undertake such tasks. We as humans are equally responsible and must inculcate a sense of duty towards the underprivileged, displaced or marginalized communities. No matter where we go in the world, there is always something that we can do to further the cause of humanitarianism.

On this World Humanitarian Day, UN is celebrating the work of #WomenHumanitarians in crises throughout the world. World leaders and non-state actors must ensure that they, and all humaitarians, are guaranteed the protection afforded to them under international law.

To conclude I would like to refer to our lives' most persistent and urgent question that Martin Luther King Jr. once asked, "What are you doing for others?"


Akshay Pathak

@Akshay_Pathak5 on Twitter


#Humanitarian #WorldHumanitarianDay #UnitedNations #World #leaders #Syria #Iraq

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Disclaimer: The Relevant Indian is inspired by the works of Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Author, Diplomat and Member of Parliament for Thiruvanathapuram.  It is however, independent of him and neither seeks nor receives instructions or guidelines on any content published. Contributors sharing their opinions and thoughts do so in their individual capacities.

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