Since World War II the rate of humanitarian crisis around the world has been drastically increasing. This trend is likely to continue or even get worse, considering the effects climate change, population growth and urbanization will have in the decades ahead. Humanitarian aid agencies and organizations continue to stretch their capabilities and resources to the limits in their efforts to respond to the rush of conflict zone and climate driven crises emerging worldwide.

One example of this is the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in November of last year. The wave of destruction brought by the storm affected 14 million people and put relief organization into high gear.

In collaboration with the government of Philippine, aid organizations and the U.N. provided much needed emergency relief services in the form of water, food and sanitation. In a massive deployment, U.N. and other aid personnel were able to clear over 500 miles of road and provided temporary shelter to over 550,000 families.

Even as media attention has moved to other crises, aid workers continue to work behind the scenes bringing emergency relief services to all affected people. Beyond the small portion of aid work that makes the headlines, aid work provided by the U.N. and other aid agencies is complex, multifaceted and long term. The U.N.’s aid network “forms the backbone of the global humanitarian response system.”

While the U.S.’ aid network remains strong, according to Richard Brennan, the World Health Organization’s Director of Emergency Risk Management and Humanitarian Response, aid agencies have been working at their maximum capacity for several years. This is cause for concern, since it allows vulnerable people to fall trough the cracks.

But it is not all gloom, there are things that can be done to change the course. First and foremost, aid agencies need the necessary funding to do their job well. So far, many aid initiatives remain severely underfunded, despite continuous calls from the U.N. and other organisms for support. Governments, non-governmental organizations, private businesses and individuals all have a stake in making these contributions happen to reach the necessary funding goals. This cannot be a one-sided effort, and it is in the best interest of everyone to protect those in the most vulnerable situations.

Secondly, the international community should be more attentive to the well-being of aid workers. These workers risk their lives to provide much needed services to the most precarious and devastated places on earth. It is our responsibility to ensure their safety and well-being, so that they can continue this valuable task.

And last but not least, strengthening the humanitarian system cannot only be a function of responding to crises; it is imperative to include prevention as a main objective of humanitarian aid. It is much easier and more cost effective to construct communities that can identify and avoid risk, or at least to be more resilient in the face of disaster, not to mention that it considerably reduces suffering as well.

The global humanitarian aid system is large and strong, but it can only do so much without the support of governments, businesses and individuals. It is our collective responsibility to support this system and to ensure that its members are able to continue bringing emergency relief to those who are suffering.

– Sahar Abi Hassan

Sources: Diplomatic Courier
Photo: Diplomatic Courier

Natalia Project Bracelet to Save LivesOn July 15, 2009, Natalia Estemirova was abducted in Chechnya while on the job defending human rights. Later that evening, she was found shot to death.

Humanitarian aid workers are regarded as selfless and live their lives implementing life-saving projects around the world. No matter the public view of these people, the work is full of dangers and, in certain countries, can even be deadly. In war-torn countries, on-the-field humanitarian aid workers have fallen victim to assault, kidnapping, and murder. After the senseless death of Natalia, one Swedish activist group, Civil Rights Defenders, hopes to take preemptive action that will protect the lives of humanitarians across the globe.

In April, Civil Rights Defenders introduced the Natalia Project bracelet, a technological innovation designed to alert authorities when an aid worker is in danger. The bracelet is chunky, plastic, and brightly colored. It is equipped with a GPS-tracking device and cell-enabled alarms that allow the wearer to send out distress signals. The bracelet’s lock will even send out an automatic distress signal if it is tampered with or forcibly removed. While the technology remains a bit spotty at this time, a downed infrastructure could undermine the GPS signals, the Civil Rights Defenders hope to outfit at least 55  aid workers by 2014. On the Natalia Project’s website, supports can give monetary donations as well as sign up for notifications that detail the time and location of a wearer that has activated the distress signal. Supports that sign up for the project and notifications will be updated on the situation as it unfolds and have the opportunity to spread the word.

While the innovation is still in the beginning stages of use, it is sure to be a device that will protect, if not save, the lives of civil rights defenders across the globe.

Kira Maixner
Source Huffington Post, Civil Rights Defenders
Photo Crunch Wear

10 Facts: The Lives of Aid Workers
Many people do not understand what it truly means to be a humanitarian aid worker. There are millions of people worldwide that dedicate their lives to improving the living conditions of people living in poverty in developing countries, refugee camps, or war zones. In countries such as Afghanistan, Syria, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the risk of violence and sickness is great. However, aid workers in other countries face just as many health risks and sleepless nights.

While the health risks are great, the benefits for these workers and the people they help are just as great. Making friends from all over the world, lifting people out of poverty, and sleeping on the beach can be some of the perks of the job. Here are ten facts about the lives of aid workers according to the Aid Worker Fact Sheet procured by Humanitarian Outcomes, Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALAP) and a few workers themselves.

  1. In 2011, 308 aid workers were killed, kidnapped or wounded – the highest number yet recorded. Afghanistan was the country with the highest number of attacks on aid works, 50, compared to 18 in Somalia, 17 in South Sudan, 13 in Pakistan and 12 in Sudan.
  2. Statistics suggest that attacks on aid workers happen in weak, unstable states and experiencing active armed conflict.
  3. Governments can pose challenges to the aid community through overbearing or ill-advised use of their security forces. In its worst form, aid workers can be caught or directly targeted in government forces’ hostilities.
  4. The conditions of aid works vary greatly from country to country. Sometimes, reliable access to amenities of the western world like electricity, hot and cold running water, reliable heat and cooling, and the freedom of movement to explore at your leisure.
  5. At times, the mental capacity of the job presents a challenge. Constant movement and the witness of horrendous living conditions frequently cause humanitarian workers to “burn out” after a few years in the field.

However, it is not all bad. Here are five facts that surpass the risks of working in developing or war-torn countries.

  1. Aid workers live a life of service that aligns with their values and are surrounded by colleagues that share the same passion and commitments. Though aid workers are on the constant move, they make connections and lasting friendships with people across the globe.
  2. Challenge and responsibility come earlier in the career of a relief worker than in many other careers.
  3. Relief workers have the opportunities to make a lasting, true impact on the lives of many of the people they encounter.
  4. Relief work allows humanitarians to escape the beaten, tourist track and truly experience different cultures and countries.
  5. According to ALNAP, there are 274,238 humanitarian field workers across the world.

– Kira Maixner

Source: Humanitarian Outcomes, Humanitarian Jobs
Photo: European Commission