The Dangerous Lives of Aid Workers
Humanitarian aid is certainly a term with which we are all familiar, but do we really know what it takes to be a successful aid worker? The job is full of sacrifices: leaving friends, family and an entire lifestyle behind to complete humanitarian work in a foreign country. But aid workers also leave something else behind: safety.
As recent as June 16, a hospital organized by Doctors Without Borders in a South Kordofan province in Sudan was struck by two aerial bombs. Although it is unknown if this hospital was simply one of the many targets in this attack, six innocent people–including a Doctors Without Borders aid worker–were injured.
Completing humanitarian aid can be difficult enough as it is, and aid workers in developing countries have increasingly faced more dangers over the past several years. According to former Navy SEAL and humanitarian aid worker Kaj Larsen, “It’s become increasingly difficult to help victims of conflict without becoming a victim of the conflict as well.” As an aid worker in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Kenya and Somalia, Larsen has seen firsthand how security concerns lead to a decrease in international responses to crises.
Although there have always been risks involved with becoming an aid worker in a foreign country, never before have aid workers been the direct targets of these attacks. According to the annual reports released by Humanitarian Outcomes based on the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD), the number of attacks against aid workers first set a new record in 2011, and the number only increased in 2012 with a total of 167 incidents resulting in the kidnappings, injuries or deaths of 274 aid workers in 19 countries.
It was revealed in the 2013 Aid Worker Security Report that the most common form of attack on aid workers is kidnappings, as an average increase of 44 percent has been seen every year since 2002. While there are several aid organizations in place that manage how these kidnappings are handled and resolved as quickly as possible, these organizations have yet to directly address the threat itself, which is one reason why this particular form of attack occurs most frequently.
What may be surprising is that ambushes and attacks–and not raids or bombings–are the second most common way aid workers experience an act of violence against them. Since these workers are seen as easy targets while they are traveling on the road, many organizations are working to decrease the danger of transporting both workers and supplies in conflict zones by adding more road security.
Despite progress organizations have made to make conditions safer for aid workers, attacks are still happening throughout these conflict zones, with Afghanistan, South Sudan, Somalia and Pakistan being among the most dangerous areas for aid workers. As the safety of thousands of aid workers from across the world are threatened, it is important for agencies to continue preventing and responding to these attacks in the most efficient way.
– Meghan Orner
Sources: VICE News, The Aid Worker Security Database 1, The Aid Worker Security Database 2
Photo: ABC News