Aid organizations increasingly work in conflict and postconflict environments. According to the most recent Clements Worldwide Risk Index, 27 percent of surveyed risk managers in large aid organizations and corporations said they have reconsidered expanding operations outside the United States due to heightened political risk.
Avoiding political risk and even violence is not an option for international aid organizations. Their mission is to help the most vulnerable and that increasingly includes people in conflict areas. According to the World Bank, by 2030 almost half of the world’s poor is expected to live in countries affected by fragility, conflict and violence.
So as nongovernmental organizations struggle with a variety of factors — donor fatigue, increasing requirements for metrics, increased violence and political unrest — they remain committed as they always have to prioritizing employee safety. This often includes a juggling act with local, regional, and national security, police and military organizations as well as international security forces from a variety of nations and the United Nations. This cooperation, even if it’s simply information sharing designed to prevent avoidable tragedies, can make aid groups appear less-than-independent.
Many NGOs share stories with us about being “warned” by rebel fighters of shifts in fighting locations or of impending attacks so they can get out of harm’s way. But this type of information cannot be relied upon to ensure employee safety.
Employee safety is a growing challenge, as attacks against aid workers are increasing. According to the Aid Worker Security Database, 2013 set a new record for violence against civilian aid operations, with 251 separate attacks affecting 460 aid workers. Of the 460 victims, 155 aid workers were killed, 171 were seriously wounded, and 134 were kidnapped. Overall this represents a 66 percent increase in the number of victims from 2012. While the figures declined in 2014, they remain at elevated levels.
What can NGO executives do to help manage this new world of instability, risk and higher security costs, including increased insurance premiums?
1. Invest more in risk management.
This means emergency planning, training, security and other techniques to manage and reduce risk. This includes testing an emergency plan, which typically highlights gaps. To achieve this, more aid groups need to elevate the role of risk management executives. More than simply “security,” they can and should play a role during program planning and implementation. This enables risk managers to help shape initiatives that reduce the need for security personnel to actively play a role when things go wrong in the field.
The International NGO Safety and Security Association is a good resource for aid groups, particularly smaller organizations, seeking information on instituting a comprehensive risk management plan.
2. Consider how they treat national staff versus expatriates.
Many of those injured are national staff. In alignment with local standards on salaries and benefits, national staff is paid significantly less and typically aren’t insured for medical evacuation services as expatriate staff are, relying only on an often subpar in-country medical infrastructure.
More progressive international NGOs are looking at insurance options for their national employees that essentially acts as an emergency policy. It gives access to Western style health care in case of a life-threatening injury or illness, even if that includes evacuation. Because of the limited scope of the services, it is still affordable for many organizations and reinforces that the lives of all staff are paramount.
Additionally, it secures kidnap and ransom insurance for national staff. According to NYA International, 84 percent of kidnap victims are typically national staff.
3. Review their international insurance programs annually.
What required coverage will vary by country, so a “one-size-fits-all” approach to insurance policies is not sufficient. There are many options now for evacuation policies, political violence and terrorism, kidnap and ransom, disability and salary continuation. An international expert to help determine how to most efficiently spend limited funds to secure customized coverage for your specific needs. Of course, there will be a cost to this, but it will help ensure business continuity in even the most high-risk environments.
Global aid operations are more dependent on particular political factors than at any time in modern history. Political unrest and instability are “normal” realities in much of the world. NGO managers need to get serious about bringing their risk management strategies into line with the new “facts on the ground.” Comprehensive risk management, including tailored insurance, remains at the center of those strategies.
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