They aim to help people in distress, but each year scores of aid workers are killed on the job worldwide

LA Times
Mar 12, 2018

The recent killings of three humanitarian aid workers in Nigeria by suspected Boko Haram militants have sent shock waves throughout the humanitarian aid community and illuminated the increasingly precarious landscape such personnel must navigate to help people in areas of conflict and instability.

But the slayings were not an anomaly.

"Year on year, the number of incidents and the number of victims is, sadly, unacceptably high and steady," said Adele Harmer, a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, a research organization based in the United Kingdom that focuses on humanitarian policy and practice and runs the Aid Worker Security Database that records major incidents of violence against humanitarian workers.

On average, 102 aid workers were killed each year from 2006 to 2016, with the highest number of fatalities, 156, recorded in 2013, according to the database. The organization is still verifying figures for 2017 and the first months of 2018, but the raw data show that since the beginning of the year, 23 aid workers have been killed on the job.

Explaining the grim statistics

Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior policy fellow at the Washington-based Center for Global Development, whose research focus includes humanitarian response, said the high casualty count could partly be attributed to the growing size of the aid industry and the rising number of humanitarians working in more risky places, which increases the chances "that something bad will happen," he said.

"The typical aid environment is no longer an earthquake response or even a drought or famine type of response," Konyndyk said. "The typical aid environment now really is providing relief in incidents of active conflict and that is an inherently more dangerous context for providing aid than a natural disaster."

The workers may be affiliated with humanitarian groups, such as the Red Cross or CARE, or participate in efforts organized or run through the United Nations.

Julien Schopp, director of humanitarian practice at InterAction, the largest alliance of U.S.- based international nongovernmental organizations, underscored that the perils were more acute for national staff in the field than expatriates.

"They are more and more on the front line," Schopp said.

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