Top Story of the Week: Aid Workers Risk Lives to Save Others

Ten members of a medical team that spent two weeks providing eye care and other medical services in the rural villages of northeastern Afghanistan passed through the province of Badakhshan on their way back to Kabul. The team reportedly chose that route because Badakhshan was considered a relatively secure area.

But the six Americans, one German, one British and two Afghans never made it to the capital city alive. Their bullet-ridden bodies were found August 7 in the jungles of Badakhshan near their abandoned vehicles. The remains of the eight foreigners have since been handed over to their respective embassies while those of the two Afghans were returned to their families.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the ambush, accusing the team members of being spies and missionaries trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. These allegations were repeatedly denied by the director of the International Assistance Mission, organizer of the expedition.

The deaths of Cheryl Beckett, Brian Cardelli, Glen Lapp, Dan Terry, Tom Little, Thomas Grams, Daniela Beyer, Karen Woo, Mahram Ali and Ahmad Jawed were condemned the world over. The ambush was called by various international leaders as a “senseless act” and “the worst crime targeting the humanitarian community that has ever taken place in Afghanistan.”

The U.N. called the ambush an “apparent cold blooded execution.” The organization argued that health workers should “have access to treat those in need and must be able to do so without fear. Under international law health workers must be protected while they carry out their life saving work.”

The security of aid workers and employees is a long-standing concern of humanitarian groups operating in highly dangerous conflict areas around the world. Hotspots like Sudan, Darfur, Iraq and Pakistan have also been sites of attacks against aid workers.

The members of the ill-fated medical team knew the security risks associated with their mission, according to IAM. So do the majority of aid workers who still decide to risk their lives in order to provide much-needed services to vulnerable people.

Some would argue that purposely putting your life in danger is foolish. But there are selfless heroes out there who are willing to pay the ultimate price for the sake of development. As the U.N. puts it: “These were individuals who came to Afghanistan or were Afghans working in their own country to help the poorest and most vulnerable people.”

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.