Aid Workers, More on the Front Lines, Suffer Increased Attacks: Interview with Abby Stoddard


Aid worker attacks and attacks against civilian aid operations were at their highest levels last year, said Abby Stoddard, senior program adviser for humanitarian action at New York University’s Center on International Cooperation and a partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an independent research group. Preliminary numbers show 172 major attacks on aid workers in 2013; the previous peak year was 2008, when there were 165 attacks.

More aid workers in the field is partially responsible for the increase in attacks, which are generally targeted attacks and ambushes. “Before 1990,” Dr. Stoddard observed, “you wouldn't see many aid workers at all in active combat situations. They tended to wait at the borders for refugees.”

But, she cautioned, this is not the only reason for the increase. She noted that in some high-violence environments, aid workers are seen as linked with Western interests. “When you have an internationalized insurgency the way you do in Afghanistan... you see a greater targeting of aid workers because they are perceived to be associated with the Western agenda.”

“The majority of incidents for the past several years have taken place in just a small number of extremely high-violence environments, and for the past at least seven years, those have included Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan (and now South Sudan), and Pakistan. In 2013, Syria joined the top five in terms of the most attacks on aid workers,” she said.

She said there is no strong evidence of a correlation between increased attacks and areas where the United Nations plays a more aggressive role in the conflict, “but you do see anecdotally that it does affect the UN agencies.”

She said the UN uses a protective strategy towards security threats, using armed guards and armed escorts, for example, while NGOs focus on an acceptance approach, which involves reaching out to all parties to the conflict; reaching out to local communities; and actively and continually negotiating their presence.

The full article continues at on ReliefWeb’s website.