Another deadly attack on Pakistani aid workers

A pharmacist in a mobile health clinic of the International Medical Corps dispenses medicine to a sick child in Pakistan. In the country's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, gunmen killed seven aid workers of a local nongovernmental organization. Photo by: U.K. Department for International Development

Another tragedy struck the aid community in Pakistan barely a month after a deadly attack against at least eight health workers connected with an internationally funded anti-polio campaign.

The latest incident happened New Year’s Day in Swabi, a district of Pakistan’s northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. It involved five female teachers and two health workers with the Support With Working Solutions, a nongovernmental organization that receives funding from U.N. agencies and major bilateral donors such as the U.S. Agency for International Development, U.K. Department for International Development and AusAID.

Javed Akhtar, chief executive of Support With Working Solutions, said the group has now suspended its work. He noted that since the NGO started working in 1992 in Pakistan, it had never until now faced threats of attacks, perhaps because it employs only locals, hinting that the incident is likely linked to the negative sentiment against the anti-polio drive.

A militant crusade against the polio drive began after the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Allegedly, the U.S. government used a vaccination initiative to confirm the location of the al-Qaida leader.  

Since then, public health workers have faced mistrust from Pakistanis and, worse, were targeted by militants. The World Health Organization and UNICEF also scrapped a series of plans to vaccinate Pakistani children last year because the Taliban banned these activities in their strongholds.

The deaths reflect the growing aid worker insecurity in Pakistan. The country, according to the a new report monitoring security incidents affecting aid workers, is now among the top five most dangerous places for relief professionals.

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About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.