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Violence against aid workers soars to record high

August 19, 2014

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Violence against humanitarian workers soared to a record high last year — and already this year more aid workers have been killed than in all of 2012, according to research cited Tuesday by the United Nations.

A total of 460 humanitarian workers were killed, kidnapped and seriously wounded in 2013, a 66 percent increase from the 277 workers who were victims of attacks in 2012, the research showed.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told a U.N. Security Council meeting to mark World Humanitarian Day that attacks on humanitarian workers are part of “a picture of brutalization which we see in the world today,” and “regretfully this trend is getting worse.”

Violence against aid workers occurred in 30 countries but three-quarters of the attacks took place in just five where conflict and unrest persist — Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan and Sudan, the Aid Worker Security Report said.

According to the report, which draws on records from 2003 and was based on the latest information from the Aid Worker Security Database, 2014 is shaping up to be another bad year for aid workers.

So far this year, 79 humanitarian workers have been killed, 33 wounded and 50 kidnapped, including several killed in South Sudan and Gaza in recent weeks. That is already higher than the total of 70 aid workers killed in all of 2012, according to the research, and could reach or top the 2013 total of 155 killings.

Masood Karokhail, director of The Liaison Office, an Afghan non-governmental organization, told the council that Afghan nationals are bearing the brunt of the violence, accounting for almost 90 percent of aid workers killed, wounded and kidnapped.

“Afghan humanitarian workers suffer heavy casualties in part because international organizations are using local staff and local organizations to reduce their own security risk,” he said.

Karokhail pointed to findings that show 85 percent of U.N. staff and 76 percent of international NGOs involved in security incidents are Afghans.

“This signals that there are different values for local humanitarian workers in Afghanistan, especially those working in the U.N.,” he said.

Karokhail said that being told by an international donor that the possible death of a member of his staff “is not budgeted for” sent an implicit message “that the lives of Afghan staff are not only worth less, but also expendable.”

Globally, the U.N. humanitarian office says 108 million people need humanitarian assistance, and aid organizations need some $17.1 billion to meet their needs.

Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, told the council by videoconference that the inherent dangers of working in armed-conflict environments “are being exacerbated by the sheer number of high-risk combat zones in which organizations like ours are active.”

Humanitarian workers are now more exposed, operating under security constraints, and having to deal with fragmented armed groups, a proliferation of small arms, and “the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and the spreading of terror and violence” via social media, he said.

As a result, Maurer said, security incidents have been multiplying and because of the risks, “the number of organizations able, allowed or willing to work in conflict environments has shrunk dramatically over the last decade.”

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant, the current council president, said aid workers are operating “in unprecedentedly dangerous environments” where they are viewed “as a soft target.”

After Tuesday’s briefings there is a strong case for the Security Council to act and Britain will propose a Security Council resolution “on how the council can better protect humanitarian workers,” he said.

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