In recent years, attacks on aid workers have increased dramatically around the world. To increase safety, Sida works with local experts, support for protective equipment and safer means of transport for humanitarian aid workers. But there are also problems that not even the best protective equipment in the world solves, write Peter Lundberg and Doris Attve on Sida.
Sida is one of several Swedish authorities that operate in difficult security environments around the world. The safety of our staff and our partners is always very high on the agenda. We can agree with the author of the article Tighten the security of aid workers that armed attacks on aid workers have increased in recent years. That is basically completely unacceptable.
Accidents and illnesses are also major threats
Together with other authorities, Sida strives to broaden the concept of security as our work with security is conducted on several fronts and at different levels. It is more likely that you as an aid worker in, for example, humanitarian operations will injure yourself in local traffic or incur a serious illness on the spot. Although this may be perceived as somewhat less threatening, the consequence can be as bad as an injury caused by an antagonist. For this reason, country-specific expertise and close cooperation with local actors is a first step and a starting point for our work on security.
In recent years, attacks on humanitarian aid workers have increased dramatically. 2013 was a tragic record year with no less than 264 attacks directly targeting a total of 474 local and international humanitarian aid workers. This also includes doctors, nurses and teachers working for humanitarian organizations.
As an employer, we choose to manage the safety of our staff primarily through agreements and work structures. This means, among other things, that we arrange security courses for outgoing staff and that we have a close dialogue with embassies for an updated security picture.
Sida receives continuous updates from local organizations and the UN before the departure of our own personnel. We have also invested in improved means of communication for our staff and developed clear routines for handling security incidents. We are also very flexible in our safety thinking and in cases where the risks are considered too great, a trip can be quickly canceled or changed.
Helps with protective equipment
However, it becomes somewhat more complicated for our international partners as national legislation often regulates employer liability in international efforts. The Sida authority can thus not make demands on its partners based on Swedish legislation. On the other hand, Sida offers financing to, for example, support humanitarian personnel with concrete security measures.
For example, Sida finances security and communication equipment such as satellite telephones for our partner organizations and the UN. Sida also pays for protective equipment such as bulletproof vests for, for example, the UN aid organization UNRWA in Gaza, as well as bulletproof cars for organizations working in armed conflicts such as South Sudan. Sida also helps with safer transport options such as advanced aircraft to, among others, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the UN Humanitarian Aviation Service UNHAS to reach out to more remote areas more safely.
Even within the framework of natural disasters and health disasters, Sida prioritises the protection of humanitarian personnel. Right now we are providing support for helicopters to, for example, UNHAS in Nepal, in order to enable assistance to the hard-to-reach countryside. In the fight against Ebola, Sida ensures that a certain part of the funding goes to medical protective equipment for national and international personnel. These concrete (and of course costly) measures are of great importance for improving the security of humanitarian personnel.
Political solutions are also required
But the problem of security is more complex than that, especially in armed conflicts characterized by brutal violence, anarchy and impunity. Today's armed groups are more fragmented than ever, and thus lack a unified agenda or command structure to which aid workers can relate. In addition, we see a development in which both state and non-state armed actors clearly ignore international humanitarian law. These basic problems cannot be solved by the best protective equipment in the world. Political solutions are required here instead. Something that should not be imposed on the humanitarian aid worker.
Here, for example, Sida supports the UN and the Red Cross movement in its work with accession negotiations - something that benefits the entire humanitarian community in the country. This work is often done discreetly and through many successive processes at different levels. Concrete results of this have been documented in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo (accession to the Kivu area in 2010), Sri Lanka (through effective accession negotiations with the guerrilla movement Tamil Tigers) and Nepal (where negotiations with the Maoist Party led to the release of child soldiers).
In Syria, negotiations with most states have now opened up for relief efforts to reach Syria through cross-border operations from neighboring countries. These negotiations create a structure that humanitarian personnel as well as national actors can relate to and thus the security of humanitarian personnel can be improved.
All these measures are of fundamental importance for the security of the humanitarian response, which in turn is a prerequisite for us to be able to reach the more than 100 million people who are in need of humanitarian aid today. Thus, these measures will also be crucial for the humanitarian principle of "humanity", ie helping people "wherever they are", even in the most risky areas. Often these groups are most vulnerable. At the same time, they have the least access to national and international aid.
Peter Lundberg and Doris Attve