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Record numbers of humanitarian lives lost as aid workers fill the void of political inaction

Written by Sara Pantuliano

Press Release

Lack of political action to resolve conflicts in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan and other war-torn places is pushing aid workers to fill the void say experts at ODI on the day a service is held at Westminster Abbey to commemorate humanitarian lives lost for the first time. 

Record numbers of aid workers were killed in 2013, with 155 lives lost. This is almost a third more than a decade earlier. In July 2014 alone, five aid workers were killed by air strikes or gunfire in Gaza. During 2014, 67 people have been killed.

“The humanitarian aid being given by international governments – including the UK Government – is welcome but it is not enough. This places a greater responsibility on the shoulders of humanitarian aid workers. But humanitarian aid cannot take the place of political solutions,” said Sara Pantuliano, Director of the Humanitarian Policy Group at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) – the UK’s leading think tank on humanitarian and development issues. 

Humanitarian aid spending by government donors has increased by nearly 75% over the last decade. 

“Aid agencies, funded by and spurred on by government donors, have pushed on further and further into the frontlines of conflicts, where the needs are greatest, but it exposes them and their staff to an increasing level of violence,” said Ms Pantuliano.  

In 2012, British aid worker Khalil Dale was kidnapped and killed while working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in south-west Pakistan. His car was ambushed by armed militants while on his way home from work. In 2010, British doctor Karen Woo was shot dead alongside nine colleagues while providing humanitarian aid in Afghanistan. But the majority of those killed are local aid workers trying to help their compatriots. 

“Today we remember our fallen comrades who have lost their lives in service of others. But as bodybags of aid workers pile up, this memorial reminds us of the pressing urgency to find lasting solutions. More and more, humanitarians are filling the void left by political inaction and are paying the price with their lives,” said Ms Pantuliano. 

On World Humanitarian Day, 19 August, the UK will host a national memorial for humanitarian aid workers who have been killed on the frontlines at Westminster Abbey. 

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Notes to editors: 

•         The humanitarian lives lost comes from the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD).

•         The 75% humanitarian aid spending increase by government donors is sourced from Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA).

To arrange an interview with Sara Pantuliano from the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) please contact Clare Price on 07808 791 265.