A dangerous life

The United Nations flag that was destroyed in an attack in Baghdad, Iraq, is now displayed at U.N. headquarters in New York. Photo by: Mike Philippens / CC BY-NC-ND 

I’ve spoken with many aid workers over the years, often over Skype or sometimes within the comforts of a coffee shop. I would hear their tales of struggles but also of pride.

The dangerous environments relief and development workers operate in are making headlines around the globe. Last week, for instance, armed groups seized five Red Cross staffers in Afghanistan’s Herat province while an inquest ruled that a British aid expert was unlawfully killed in a reported terrorist attack early this year at a restaurant; a week before that in South Sudan’s Maban county, six humanitarian workers fell victim to ethnic murder.

These security incidents are a stark and sobering reminder that the life of aid workers, while rewarding, is a life of danger. And it is getting more dangerous.

This year’s World Humanitarian Day, on Aug. 19, brought home that point. According to a report by Humanitarian Outcomes released to mark the occasion, 2013 saw 460 aid workers dying, wounded or kidnapped, a record high. As of Aug. 12, 2014, 150 aid workers had been victims of attacks.

“While danger and risk are an often unavoidable part of an aid worker’s life, our support in the shape of training and personal safety offices in hotspots across the globe will help to minimise the risks,” Desmond Swayne, the U.K. minister of state at the Department for International Development, said Thursday in a written statement.

The statement accompanied an announcement on a pledge of 1 million pounds ($1.7 million) to improve security arrangements for humanitarian groups in aid hotspots, support NGO personnel safety offices in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Mali and Syria, and fund interactive online training on personal security and risk assessments for aid workers.

Here at Devex, we endeavor to provide information on how relief professionals can remain safe in the field. We’ve reported on things to know before heading to a conflict zone and on how aid organizations are keeping their personnel safe in those areas, including UNICEF in Sudan, Intersos in countries like Somalia and major agencies in Afghanistan. We’ve highlighted innovations that could help reduce aid worker risks, like Google Glass, mobile apps for humanitarians and a bracelet that acts as a personal security alarm.

What do you think are some of best practices to keep aid workers safe in the field? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Ejv 150x150

    Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Currently based in New York City, Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.