Aid sector must do more to keep local staff safe in conflict zones, says Christian Aid

By agency reporter
August 18, 2018

Governments, UN agencies and aid organisations must unlock extra funds to help protect local humanitarian workers from death and injury when serving in conflict zones, Christian Aid has said.

The charity is urging global donors to give grassroots organisations the means to reduce security threats facing staff who risk their lives in humanitarian service within their own countries and communities. This call comes ahead of the United Nations’ annual World Humanitarian Day, this Sunday. 

2018 has seen fatal attacks on Christian Aid partners in South Sudan and Gaza. In the wider sector, at least 313 aid workers were victims of violent attacks in 2017, according to new global figures published this week.

Christian Aid’s Senior Adviser for Humanitarian Policy and Advocacy, Jane Backhurst, said: “This year's World Humanitarian Day highlights the need for concrete steps to protect all civilians caught up in violence: this includes aid workers.

"At Christian Aid, we are committed to delivering our relief operations through our local partners. They are usually the first to respond to conflicts in their countries, and are therefore vital to ensuring emergency aid gets to people who most need it.

“These staff are embedded in populations affected by crisis: their proximity gives them more humanitarian access, but it also leaves them more vulnerable to deadly acts of violence. From South Sudan to Afghanistan, Gaza to Nigeria, our partners risk their lives daily to provide life-saving assistance to their fellow citizens in insecure contexts. We are incredibly grateful for their sacrifice and service.”

In April, a staff member from Christian Aid’s local partner UNIDO was shot and killed near Leer in South Sudan, where they had been working in a health facility. Approximately 100 aid workers have been killed in the country since December 2013, predominantly South Sudanese nationals.

In June, 21-year-old Razan al-Najjar, a volunteer medic for Christian Aid’s partner the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS), was killed on duty in Gaza. Razan was shot by Israeli Forces as she gave medical assistance to injured protesters. In the two months prior, 30 PMRS paramedics were injured throughout the Gaza Strip, while assisting civilians hurt during protests to end the nearly 12-year closure of Gaza.

Last month, in Afghanistan, a suicide bomb was detonated just 15-20 metres from where two Christian Aid workers were standing. They survived the explosion.

Jane Backhurst said: “Local aid workers move between having ‘humanitarian status’ when on duty to having ‘civilian status’ when off-duty. Whether humanitarian worker or civilian, they should have additional protection under international humanitarian law: in reality they are the majority of frontline responders – not western NGOs – and they are first in the line of danger. That’s why we need to prioritise their safety and security.

“This means ensuring donors invest more funds in the core, everyday activities of local and national NGOs. Rather than providing one-off grants on a crisis-by-crisis basis, we must commit to investing in their long-term operations. Without this, they will struggle to generate adequate financial resources to keep their local humanitarian staff safe: for instance, through security training, security and logistics advisers, or corporate security systems that work properly.”

In May 2016 at the World Humanitarian Summit, over 30 of the biggest donors and aid agencies agreed to change the way humanitarian emergencies are financed, and to provide at least 25 per cent of global humanitarian funding to local and national responders, by 2020.

The summit also agreed to "respect, support and strengthen local leadership and capacity in crises", as part of a strategy known as the ‘localisation agenda’. It saw international NGOs signing a ‘Charter for Change’ pledge to alter how they work with local and national aid agencies. Although there has been some progress, it has been slow, says Christian Aid.

“Unlocking more core funds for local and national NGOs is not only vital to safeguarding the lives of in-country humanitarian staff, but also to making the ‘localisation agenda’ a reality in line with Charter for Change”, Jane Backhurst said.

Extra funding is also needed to enable local agencies to provide mental health, counselling and wellbeing support for frontline staff operating in stressful, insecure and often traumatic environments, according to Christian Aid.

Aid workers are among the thousands of civilians killed by extremist armed groups or armed forces in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region since 2009. Earlier this year, one such attack claimed the lives of three Nigerian UN workers in Borno state, where Christian Aid is delivering emergency supplies in camps for displaced people.

Christian Aid is committed to investing in reducing the risks facing its humanitarian staff in Borno state. Its Country Security Advisor in Nigeria, Raymond Ohanagorom, said: “Some of the threats that have been affecting aid workers, either directly or indirectly, include: person-borne, vehicle-borne and road-planted Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks; ambush; armed robbery attacks; abduction; carjacking; violent demonstrations and cross-fire attacks.”

Aid workers' efforts are also being hampered by security forces' restrictions on accessing certain areas, Mr Ohanagorom added. Despite the severity of the situation in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, humanitarian access remains inadequate 18 months on from a global summit designed to address the crisis, and just weeks before its follow-up conference in Berlin on 3-4 September 2018.

* Download statistics showing the trends of violence against aid workers in 2017 here

* Christian Aid http://www.christianaid.org.uk/

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