UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 19 (Xinhua) -- Standing in front of a large, blue stain glass window, the silhouetted UN secretary-general bowed his head in a wreath-laying ceremony during a minute of silence when only the sounds of clicking cameras echoed through the visitor's lobby at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Marking the first World Humanitarian Day, UN officials and staff paid tribute to the efforts made by aid workers around the world who have sacrificed their time and their lives helping those in need.
Speaking before a crowd of UN staff and tourists, who chanced upon the event, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon paid his respects to the legions of humanitarian workers who all "share the conviction that one person's suffering is everyone's responsibility."
"World Humanitarian Day is meant to shine a spotlight on people in need, to ensure they receive the assistance they deserve," he said. "Let us redouble our efforts towards this goal. Let us fulfill our humanitarian imperative."
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, some 260 humanitarian workers were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured as a result of attacks in 2008, the highest yearly toll on record.
Last year the UN General Assembly proclaimed Aug. 19 as World Humanitarian Day to commemorate those who had lost their lives helping others, and the 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, which claimed the lives of 22 UN staff members, including the world body's top envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Vieira de Mello was a Brazilian diplomat who worked for the UN for more than 34 years, earning respect and praise around the world for his contributions to humanitarian and political programs. And, at 55 years old, he was being groomed to be the next secretary-general.
At the time, former Secretary-General Kofi Annan denounced the bombing as an inexcusable "act of unprovoked and murderous violence" and mourned the death of Vieira de Mello as "a bitter blow for the United Nations."
Looking forward, Ban said that Vieira de Mello, along with countless of other aid workers, will continue to inspire those engaged in humanitarian operations around the world.
But tributes to heroism only go so far. While a peaceful hush settled on UN headquarters Wednesday morning, a series of bombs reportedly tore through Baghdad, killing 95 people and wounding at least 563. It is being called one of the bloodiest days in Iraq this year.
Meanwhile, UN commemorative statements, special days and ceremonies continue unabated. To mark World Humanitarian Day, Director of the World Health Organization Margaret Chan noted that the number of emergencies continues to increase and with that comes the responsibility to act.
"World Humanitarian Day is an occasion for paying tribute to the men and women who work to save the lives and protect the health of people affected by emergencies, whether caused by conflict or natural disasters," she said. "These are often life-threatening situations, and those who offer help put their own lives at risk."
No where else are Chan's words more vivid than in an exhibition in New York of posters and photographs depicting humanitarian workers in action.
A Brazilian blue helmet carries a baby bundled in rags across a river in La Patrie after two days of heavy rains displaced hundreds of people in 2007.
A black and white photograph taken in Lebanon in 1968 depicts a stark image of children sadly looking up into the camera while they hold an unappetizing plate of meat and potatoes.
And, in another photo, a malnourished Sudanese baby the size of a man's hand is gently fed with a neon orange spoon.
Silently gazing at several photographs, Ban seemed not to notice the flood of people all itching to get their own picture of the man tasked with shedding light on humanity's darkest days.
To do noble work, Ban said in his speech, "to face down threats amid disaster and war, they need our help. They need us to work tirelessly for their safety, security and independence."