The world got much more dangerous for humanitarian aid workers last year

At risk.
At risk.
Image: Reuters/Luc Gnago
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Aid workers remain in danger globally despite the best efforts of humanitarian organizations.

Last year, a total of 158 major attacks on humanitarian operations across 22 countries affected 313 aid workers globally, resulting in deaths, injuries or kidnappings. While the number of attacks reduced in comparison to 2016 figures, there was an uptick in the number of victims, data from Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD) show. Crucially, 2017 marked a three-year high in the number of victims of attacks on aid operations. AWSD also notes a 23% rise in fatalities compared to 2016. Of the 313 victims of attacks, 139 were killed—the second highest recorded annual death toll ever.

South Sudan, which has been a center of aid worker attacks, accounted for more than quarter of global incidents. Violence in the world’s youngest country has continued over the past year amid a civil war as a record number of aid workers killed by gunfire while there was a rise in the number of aid worker abductions. AWSD says the kidnappings “suggests a troubling trend of armed groups using this tactic to assert control over aid operations.” However, there is some hope for aid workers in South Sudan as warring groups have agreed a new peace deal to end the country’s five-year civil war,

The lack of security for aid workers has a devastating cyclic effect on citizens in conflict zones. Unsure of their workers’ safety, humanitarian organizations often suspend operations in areas where insecurity is severe. And, as a result, citizens in those areas in dire need of critical aid items, including food and medicine, remain in want. As heightened conflicts often limit access of international aid organizations and their workers, a majority of killed aid workers in 2017 were with national and local humanitarian groups and non-profits.

In all, most of the 158 attacks in 2017 occurred countries with continuing conflict. Alongside South Sudan, Syria,  Afghanistan, and Central African Republic accounted for two thirds of all major incidents.