Dangerous assistance

A humanitarian worker checks the health of a Somali refugee. Photo by: IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

It’s a sobering reality: Humanitarian assistance is often needed most in countries with the highest security risks to aid workers.

Take Somalia, for instance. Experts have dubbed the country’s long civil war and ongoing food shortages one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. And at the end of 2011, almost half of its population required assistance. Aid operations in the country, however, continue to remain restricted by security concerns. At least 27 major attacks directed at aid workers occurred in the nation at the Horn of Africa between 2009 and 2010.

Already an alarming figure, it is still dwarfed by the total number of attacks against aid workers in Afghanistan in the same period: 85, according to a report by Humanitarian Outcomes, the highest number worldwide.

Sudan and Pakistan are two other places that ranked highly on the NGO’s index of the most dangerous countries in the world for aid workers — mostly places with protracted armed conflicts and a widespread antipathy against Western-funded aid operations.

Also on the list of hostile environments for aid workers, based on 2009 and 2010 figures: Sri Lanka, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, the Palestinian territories, Chad, Kenya and Uganda. And if recent accounts of violence against humanitarian workers are to be considered, Yemen and Syria may figure prominently in this list as well.

Despite the risk, humanitarian operations continue in one form or another in these places — with strict safety measures, usually, although that does not prevent attacks, as the report shows.

This Sunday (Aug. 19) is a day to recognize the millions of people who continue to provide humanitarian assistance around the world despite threats to their lives and limbs. World Humanitarian Day is an annual commemoration designated by the United Nations in 2008.

And this year, the global body hopes to involve more people through social media. The theme “I Was Here” is adapted from a song by U.S. singer Beyonce. Her involvement is meant to encourage ordinary citizens — not just those whose profession it is to deliver humanitarian assistance — to do a good deed.

Read our previous DevTrivia.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.