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Dangerouser and dangerouser? Aid workers on the front lines

Nicholas van Praag's picture
   Threatened symbol of neutrality

When I was working as a field officer with UNHCR in eastern Sudan in the mid 1980s, the living conditions were tough but we did not fear for our lives.

A couple of years later, a faction of the PLO attacked the Acropole Hotel in Khartoum, the city’s main hang-out for aid workers and journalists.  Four people were killed and more injured.

The aid fraternity was in shock at what they saw as a dagger lunged into the heart of their community.

Today, such an incident would still get headlines but stories of attacks and kidnappings of aid workers are depressingly familiar.

As the amount of overseas development assistance going to countries in conflict or affected by conflict rises, the growing numbers of humanitarian and development staff frequently find themselves in harm’s way.

This trend is due in part to the recurrence of violence.  Research for the WDR shows that many conflict-hit countries experience repeated violent episodes.

The linear progression from war and destruction to peace and development is now the exception rather than the rule.

This means that aid workers are increasingly caught up in the ebb and flow of conflict rather than coming in when the guns fall definitively silent.