From disaster relief to fighting poverty, UN lauds contribution of volunteers

5 December 2005

The United Nations today marked International Volunteer Day by paying tribute, in the words of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the “invaluable contributions” of volunteers in facing challenges across the globe from natural disasters to ‘silent crises’ such as poverty and disease.

The United Nations today marked International Volunteer Day by paying tribute, in the words of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to the “invaluable contributions” of volunteers in facing challenges across the globe from natural disasters to ‘silent crises’ such as poverty and disease.

“From the flooded streets of New Orleans to the flattened villages in Pakistan, ordinary people have risen to extraordinary challenges,” Mr. Annan said in a message, referring to just two of this year’s calamities – Hurricane Katrina’s assault on the United States’ Gulf Coast and the earthquake in the Himalayas.

“They have volunteered their time, energy and skills to save lives and to rebuild communities. Through their service, they have shown us the very best of humanity.”

But just as important is their role in tackling ‘silent crises.’

“These often unsung heroes understand all too well that poverty, disease and famine are just as deadly and destructive as earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis,” Mr. Annan declared. “Individuals, young and old, of all nationalities, ethnicities and beliefs, are taking on these challenges in their communities, volunteering to make a difference.”

“They remain the true champions of our work towards the Millennium Development Goals,” he added, referring to the ambitious targets set by the UN Summit of 2000 to slash a host of economic and social ills, such as extreme poverty and hunger, maternal and infant mortality and lack of health or education services, all by 2015.

He stressed the need for across-the-board cooperation of all sectors of society. “If we are to make poverty history, we must have the active participation of States, civil society and the private sector, as well as individual volunteers. A united approach is especially critical in countries that will not meet the Millennium Goals without dramatic increases in effort,” he said.

UN tsunami envoy, former United States President Bill Clinton, praised the role of volunteers in the Indian Ocean disaster. “In the hours and days immediately after the December 2004 tsunami struck the shores of the Indian Ocean, thousands of volunteers, many of them survivors themselves, were the very first to respond,” he said in a message.

“Their unwavering courage and compassion was extraordinary as they fought to save lives, give comfort, cook food, build shelter, move rubble to bury the over 200,000 dead.”

UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, Kemal Dervis, also stressed the role of ordinary citizens in the global initiative to end poverty by 2015, as well as the role of governments in ensuring people are properly supported in their endeavours.

“Promoting volunteerism, strengthening the support provided to volunteers, and recognizing the contributions of volunteers, are all vital if the Goals are to be realized in the next decade,” he said. “I encourage governments of both rich and poor countries, as well as other stakeholders and the entire UN system, to create more opportunities for people to contribute to development in tangible ways through volunteerism.”

UN Volunteers (UNV) Executive Coordinator Ad de Raad noted that while volunteerism is flourishing in a number of countries, its full potential has not been fully realized.

“More governments than ever are nurturing the development of an environment within which volunteerism can flourish,” he said. “However, despite the important progress underway, much work remains to be done in terms of recognizing and harnessing the full potential of volunteerism for development.”

 

♦ Receive daily updates directly in your inbox - Subscribe here to a topic.
♦ Download the UN News app for your iOS or Android devices.