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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

UN seeks selfies for 'living petition' to protect civilians and aid workers in wars

Images will be projected onto an installation in front of New York headquarters

A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a child after air strikes hit a school in Deraa province. Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP
A Syrian Civil Defence member carries a child after air strikes hit a school in Deraa province. Syrian Civil Defence White Helmets via AP

Thousands of selfies are to be displayed on a 3D installation at the United Nations in New York to highlight the plight of millions caught in conflict worldwide and demand protection for those trying to help them, the world body said on Friday.

The UN is asking people around the world to add their names to a petition calling on global leaders to protect civilians and aid workers - not with a pen, but by submitting a selfie online.

The 3D images will be projected onto a mirrored glass structure at the UN building in what it is calling the first-ever "living petition".

"It is unconscionable that civilians and the aid workers who are trying to help them are killed and maimed in conflict zones with utter impunity," said Mark Lowcock, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

"We need this to end."

In 2017, 139 aid workers were killed, more than 100 wounded and 76 kidnapped while doing their jobs, according to the annual Aid Worker Security Report compiled by independent research group Humanitarian Outcomes.

The death toll was the second highest on record and 23 per cent higher than the previous year.

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Syria was named the most dangerous place for humanitarian workers for the second year in a row in 2018 in a separate analysis by charity Care International, accounting for more than half of 76 deaths recorded so far this year.

Experts say aid agencies need to do more to help workers who suffer from mental health problems such as depression, burnout and anxiety after exposure to traumatic events.

"In all of my time in the humanitarian aid industry I've learned things like ... how to change the wheel of an armoured vehicle ... but never how to recognise depression," Michael Bociurkiw, a former aid worker, told a conference in London.

Only 20 per cent of humanitarians who responded to a 2018 survey said they felt adequate psychosocial support was being offered, according to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), a British think-tank.

"If you're not OK yourself ... then how can you expect to be helping others," said Jaz O'Hara, founder of The Worldwide Tribe, a grassroots group helping refugees, at the ODI conference.

The UN installation is part of the #NotATarget campaign marking World Humanitarian Day on August 19, and will remain in place throughout the UN General Assembly in September, when the world's heads of state gather in New York.

"The thousands of faces that make up the living petition will be on display to remind world leaders of their legal obligation to protect civilians in conflict," said Mr Lowcock.

Almost 32,000 civilians were killed or injured by explosive weapons last year, a 38 per cent increase on 2016, OCHA said.

"It is imperative that we hold men with guns and power accountable," Mr Lowcock said.

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