Taking the security of aid workers seriously
The kidnapping of Sharon Commins and Hilda Kawuki in Kutum, north Darfur (Sudan) in July 2009 has once again highlighted the dangers faced by aid workers.
Aid agencies and aid workers confront a wide number of safety concerns, ranging from disease and traffic accidents to personal safety. In 2009, 278 humanitarians were victims of security incidents in 2009, compared to 65 in 1999. (See also this resource on Safety, Security and Aid Workers)
In recent years, however, aid workers are facing a new threat, as they are now being targeted for who they are. Increasingly, aid workers bringing relief to victims of war and violent conflict have themselves become deliberate targets; either for political reasons or as victims of opportunistic banditry.
To cope with the many dangers facing aid workers, Dóchas members have critical incident management and crisis response protocols in place. As a rule, staff receive safety and security training before their deployment, and Irish NGOs work closely with Irish Aid, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Defence Forces to ensure their procedures continue to reflect the highest standards.
It is important to note that the vast majority of deaths and threats to aid workers concern local employees, not international staff of aid agencies – of the 92 humanitarian workers kidnapped in 2009, 59 were national staff and 33 international. In 1999, only 20 humanitarians were kidnapped (two nationals and 18 internationals).
Western Governments have not helped matters, however, as they have contributed to a gradual blurring of the lines between relief operations and military interventions in crises such as Pakistan, Haiti and Irak. Furthermore, donor funding for NGO security measures has been declining in recent years, making it more difficult for NGOs to invest in staff training and preparation.
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