News: Humanitarians Become Terrorist Target.

UN office bombed in AlgiersThis news article sums up the recent terrorist attacks against the UN:

In 2007, Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have threatened or targeted U.N. officials and peacekeepers in conflict zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan and southern Lebanon, where six U.N. peacekeepers were killed in a bombing in June. Even before the Algiers attack, the United Nations was already investing millions of dollars in fortifying its facilities and convoys in response to threats in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But the Algiers attack -- the deadliest for the United Nations since insurgents bombed its Baghdad headquarters in August 2003 -- provided a blunt reminder of how vulnerable the international organization is. (...)

Since the bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad, I have always believed that we, international humanitarian organisations, will become the soft targets. As the "hard targets", e.g. the UK and US foreign missions, isolate themselves, lock themselves up behind walls of concrete, we -humanitarians- can not. While often the streets of US embassies are barricaded, our work is on those streets, in the field, working with the people.

We -humanitarians- are working in the most remote places, often as the only expats around. How easy does that make us as a target? Any malicious group who wants international press, only needs to kidnap or kill one of us, and they get plenty of international press... And that was only talking about terrorism. How about just plain crime and banditry?

To give you an idea, WFP (UN World Food Programme) had 36 people killed, injured or detained this year only... That is a sharp raise from the previous years.

We're in for a rough ride... How much do we protect ourselves? With what financial implication? For example, a typical field 4x4 vehicle costs about US$25,000. But working in a high risk area will easily add US$15,000 in ballistic blankets and HF/VHF radios for security measures.

How much risk is acceptable, to the organisations, and to the staff themselves? How much do those security measures isolate us, and disables us from doing the work we are set to do: work with the people.

Picture courtesy Fayez Nureldine, AFP/Getty Images


pumuckl 27 December, 2007 17:16  

well, soft target... not as hard as the military, but not as soft as ICRC for example. let's face it, the image of the UN on the field changed from the humanitarian worker to the blue helment, and now it is MsF, ICRC and others who do the real field work. our implementing partners!! and look to somalia - even them get kidnapped.

Peter 28 December, 2007 12:54  

ABSOLUTELY agree with you, Pumuckl!!

The UN humanitarians are soft targets, but not as soft a target as those (almost by mandate), working even deeper in the field. Even so, just the fact that only within WFP, we had 36 people killed, injured or detained this year only, says enough of the dangers we all encounter.

So the article goes for all humanitarians... not just for UN...

We are all in for a rough future!


Anonymous,  31 December, 2007 11:28  

(Crosspost from a comment left by Kiddy on the Newsvine Aid Workers page)

While its true that aid workers have become soft targets for terrorist groups and mere bandits, i would like to think that aid agencies are too slow in reacting to some of the threats they face in the field and this is well known to the bandits and terrorist groups. How many aid agencies have in house intelligence officers within security units to conduct assessments before teams are sent out into the field? Why do agencies want to combine logistic duties with security? i know someone will say that disasters are unpredictable and as such it will be a waste of resources to have such teams since they would not know where to start from in terms of knowing where the next team would be sent and that they are trying to save money by combining the roles of security and logistics. The second problem i see is that aid agencies believe on collecting their security information from internet, and newspapers etc. The information is out there and its just a question of knowing how to access it. If Security officers in aid agencies made it a point to liaise with state organs in the countries they operate in, some of these calamities would be avoided.
When i was working in the Government, we shared information with aid agencies because bad incidents on aid workers reflected badly on the Government and this could stop other agencies from setting up offices while those around could leave. if such a thing happened, its not only the poor people that suffer but the Government loses face while investors will not want to have anything with such a country.
In my professional opinion, a number of things ought to start happening and the following would be my advice.

1. Aid agencies should immediately start relocating their offices from crowded places into open spaces. Its easy to monitor unusual activities such as surveillance on their offices, staff etc

2. The idea of having 3 or so aid agencies in one building should be critically examined.(you cant put value on someones life).Its time you start having different offices for different agencies. The practice of having different agencies in one building is old dated.

3. Start employing experienced people who are able to move with the time. How many security manuals talk about terrorist threats. By the way, you cant train a security officer in 3 days.
A seasoned security officer takes years to be where he gets to be good. Even then, he continues to perfect his/her skills.

4. The person responsible for security must be able to officially interact with security officers. You will be surprised how much you will be able to learn.
Finally one aid agency in my country is a disaster waiting to happen.

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