Our Programmes



Sign up to our newsletter.

Follow ODI

Providing aid in insecure environments: trends in policy and operations

By any measure, international aid work is a dangerous profession. As for soldiers and others who work in war zones, the risk of death or serious injury is ever-present. Rising numbers of attacks against aid workers in Darfur, Sudan and Sri Lanka made 2006 one of the deadliest years in a half-decade that has already seen unprecedented levels of violence against humanitarian operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

While militaries are able to mitigate the consequences of these risks, a serious incident against a civilian aid organisation can shake the confidence and disrupt the operations of the entire aid community.

The project approach

This study, led by the Humanitarian Policy Group at ODI in partnership with the Center on International Cooperation, provides the first comprehensive empirical analysis of violence against aid workers relative to their numbers in the field and examines related trends in security policy and operations over the last decade. Key findings are as follows:

  • There has been a marked increase in violence against aid workers in absolute terms.
  • When the number of victims is compared to the increasing population of aid workers in the field, the global incidence trend appears to have risen by only a small amount.
  • While the number of violent incidents against UN and ICRC staff has decreased, those against NGOs and the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies have increased.
  • The majority of aid worker victims (78%) are nationals of the host country, and their casualty rates per staff member in the field are rising compared to their international counterparts.
  • Aid worker violence does not correlate with the intensity of conflict, or the presence of specific political/military actors.
  • In the vast majority of incidents, aid workers were
    deliberately targeted, for political and/or economic
    purposes, rather than being randomly exposed to violence.
  • Despite Afghanistan and Iraq experiencing relatively high numbers of security incidents, in both absolute and relative terms, Somalia and Sudan remain the most violent places for aid operations.

The report concludes with a series of recommendations to strengthen operational security and aid management in insecure environments. It provides an outline of what good ‘remote management’ practices might look like, and argues that the development of local capacity and the security of national as well as international staff should be central to future aid programming, at the global, regional and local levels.

James Darcy, Abby Stoddard and Katherine Haver