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Growing needs will be unmet without protection for humanitarian workers

August 17, 2023

In 2023, 339 million people will need humanitarian assistance. While providing vital assistance to populations affected by conflict, humanitarian and health workers continue to be targeted, kidnapped, criminalized, injured and sometimes even killed.

To mark International Humanitarian Day on August 19, Humanity & Inclusion, Doctors of the World and Action Against Hunger have published a joint report, "'The risks we take are beyond comprehension' - Better protecting humanitarian and health workers."

This report takes stock of humanitarian organizations’ challenges as well as key demands to better protect humanitarian and health workers.

They call on international donors to take greater account of the security of humanitarian and health workers in the funding allocated to organizations, and ask governments to ensure that international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles are respected.

Main threat: conflicts and repeated violations of international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles

In 2022, the Aid Worker Security Database recorded at least 439 attacks against humanitarian workers. For health workers, 2022 was the most violent year in ten years. In that year, records show 1,989 violent incidents against health facilities and staff, resulting in 232 deaths among health workers. Around 20 countries, including South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar and Ukraine, are particularly dangerous for aid and health professionals.

"With armed conflicts getting bogged down or multiplying, with repeated natural disasters linked to climate disruption, with food insecurity spreading in East Africa in particular, the humanitarian challenges are proving ever greater,” says Jean-Pierre Delomier, Deputy Director of International Operations, Humanity & Inclusion. “Faced with complex crises, humanitarian and healthcare workers are operating in increasingly dangerous environments. Attacks against them jeopardize access to aid for those who need it most, as this aid is often vital. It is essential that their safety is preserved so that they can continue to assist people experiencing the most acute situations."

Although they must guarantee people safe access to aid under international humanitarian law and humanitarian principles, governments and armed groups are constantly putting aid workers at risk. They perpetuate attacks against them or introduce measures that politicize and criminalize humanitarian action and the medical mission. As a result, they increase the risk of violence and prevent aid professionals from carrying out their fundamental mission: to provide vital assistance and healthcare based solely on the needs of the affected populations.

Local health and humanitarian workers: the most exposed and least protected

90% of humanitarian and healthcare workers who fall victim to attacks are local actors. They are on the front line, where needs are greatest, delivering assistance and healthcare in areas that are often inaccessible to international actors. They are the most exposed to the risk of violence, but are often left with few resources. Donors and international partners must support them and ensure that resources are shared to enable them to ensure their own safety.

"As Director of Operations, the safety of my teams is a daily concern,” says Helena Ranchal, Director of Operations, Doctors of the World - Médecins du Monde. “They need the best possible support to carry out their difficult mission: helping those in need. This is why we are joining forces with ACF and HI on World Humanitarian Day to call on governments, donors and the humanitarian community to continue the efforts of recent years. We have made progress, but there are still major threats to humanitarian workers, especially local ones. We are increasingly concerned that health workers are also being targeted and prevented from providing quality care without hindrance.”

Faced with these risks, insufficient funding to ensure safety

To ensure the safety of their staff, humanitarian organizations must put in place strategies to prevent and respond to risks to their personnel. They must be able to equip themselves with equipment, train their staff and have people dedicated to security management, ensure evacuations from high-risk areas, and provide psychological, financial or legal support to staff who are victims of attacks and to their families. However, organizations are finding it difficult to have these costs financed, and are sometimes forced to choose between ensuring the highest level of security protection for their staff and financing other costs required to implement projects.

“The violence perpetrated against humanitarian and health workers, as well as against civilians, calls for an urgent wake-up call,” says Frédéric Penard, Managing Director, Action Against Hunger. “In view of the extent of the needs, particularly in terms of food security and nutrition, both governments and armed groups must respect their commitments and international law: cease all violence against humanitarian actors, whether national or international, stop politicizing our actions and guarantee humanitarian access. Donors must do more to cover the security costs of our staff."

About Humanity & Inclusion

HI is an independent international aid organization. It has been working in situations of poverty and exclusion, conflict and disaster for 41 years. Working alongside people with disabilities and other groups experiencing extreme hardship, our actions and testimony are focused on responding to their essential needs, improving their living conditions and promoting respect for their dignity and basic rights. Since it was founded in 1982, Humanity & Inclusion (formerly Handicap International) has set up development programs in more than 60 countries and intervenes in numerous emergency situations. There are eight national associations within the network (Germany, Belgium, Canada, United States, France, Luxembourg, UK and Switzerland), working tirelessly to mobilize resources, co-manage projects and increase the impact of the organization’s principles and actions. HI is one of six founding organizations of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize and winner of the Conrad N. Hilton Award in 2011. HI takes action and campaigns in places where “living in dignity” is no easy task.”


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