Attacks and interference heighten humanitarian risks


UNITED NATIONS – Mounting attacks in war zones from Afghanistan to Sudan have made aid work one of the most dangerous jobs around, according to specialists who are calling for governments and guerrillas to stay out of the humanitarian zone. Aid worker deaths have tripled over the past decade to reach 100 per year on average, according to a new study prepared for the UN humanitarian agency. There have been about 40 kidnappings in each of the past four years.
Since 2005 there have been 180 serious attacks on aid workers in Afghanistan – including the slaughter of seven UN staff by a mob in Mazar-i-Sharif on April 1 – almost 150 in Sudan and about 100 in Somalia, according to Jan Egeland, a former chief UN humanitarian coordinator. Sri Lanka, Iraq, Pakistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and the occupied Palestinian territories have all become “very bad” places to work, said Egeland. But aid work has also become a growth industry with tens of thousands of aid workers operating in conflicts and natural disasters around the world.
Egeland, chief UN humanitarian coordinator from 2003 until 2006 through the height of the Iraq war, said governments and militants in the thick of conflict are trying to influence humanitarian workers, who often risk their reputations and lives by accepting finance from sources involved in the conflicts. “Some aid groups are doing crazy things and that affects everybody,” said Egeland, now director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, who helped write the study “To Stay And Deliver” for the UN.
He complained of a “militarization and politicization of humanitarian work” with governments trying to restrict aid groups to areas under their control, donor governments refusing to give money to charities who deal with organizations on their “terrorist” lists.