* First World Humanitarian Day observed at U.N. worldwide
* Marks six years since deadly bombing of U.N. in Baghdad
* 770 aid workers killed since 1997, record toll in 2008
By Patrick Worsnip
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 19 Aid workers, targets of rising violence that has killed nearly 800 of them in the past dozen years worldwide, were honored for the first time on Wednesday in a special day proclaimed by the United Nations.
World Humanitarian Day was marked on the sixth anniversary of the truck bombing of the then U.N. headquarters in Baghdad, which killed 22 people including special U.N. envoy Sergio Vieira de Mello of Brazil.
A foundation set up by his widow Annie and former colleagues is behind the move to pay tribute to those who provide life-saving food, clean water, vaccines and shelter to millions of civilians caught up in wars or disasters.
Since de Mello died, "aid workers are working in ever more dangerous conditions," Catherine Bragg, deputy head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian affairs (OCHA), said in a ceremony at U.N. headquarters.
"The last two years have been successively the most deadly for aid workers on record," Bragg said, adding that violent attacks had claimed the lives of over 770 around the world since 1997.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said it was unacceptable that last year more humanitarian workers were kidnapped, seriously injured or killed in attacks than ever before. He noted that on Tuesday, two Afghan U.N. employees were killed along with at least six others in a suicide attack in Kabul.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice said in a statement the United States noted "with profound concern" the increasing threats to aid workers. "We call upon all states and parties to give their highest attention to the safety and security of humanitarian personnel," she said.
The U.N. General Assembly last December adopted a resolution designating the annual day.
2008 RECORD YEAR
Last year, 260 aid workers were victims of violent attacks, according to the British-based Overseas Development Institute. Some 122 of them lost their lives against 36 deaths in 1998.
"The 2008 fatality rate for international aid workers exceeds that of U.N. peacekeeping troops," the group said in a recent report.
It said there had been a particular upswing in kidnapping of humanitarians, which jumped 350 percent in the past three years, with expatriates preferred to nationals as they brought higher ransoms and a "more visible political statement."
The three most violent countries for aid workers are Sudan, especially the Darfur region, Afghanistan and Somalia, it said. This year has already seen killings and other violent acts in Pakistan, Somalia, the Philippines and Sudan.
Somalia, scene of a two-year insurgency led by Islamist militants against the government, has one of the highest per capita incidents of aid worker attacks in the world, U.N. officials say. So far in 2009, eight aid workers have been killed and 13 remain in captivity since 2008.
(For a link to OCHA's World Humanitarian Day page, go to here)
(Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Vicki Allen)