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The untold cost of saving lives

22 August 2017, Voices from the Field, Emergencies

The ability of aid agencies to respond effectively to the hunger crisis is being heavily impacted by violence directed at frontline humanitarian workers.

Figures compiled ahead of World Humanitarian Day show that between January 2016 and March 2017, the four ‘famine’ countries – South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria - were all among the top eight most insecure countries for aid workers.

Records show that in 2016, 131 aid workers were killed, seriously injured or kidnapped in the four countries, which are all facing severe food insecurity.

In South Sudan, 98 aid workers fell victim to attack or incidents of insecurity while carrying out their work, with 26 fatalities. In Somalia, there were 17 victims and 10 deaths recorded, while Yemen had 13 victims and six deaths, and three aid workers were victims of violence in Nigeria. All of those killed were local staff. 

The situation for aid workers looks much the same this year, with 63 humanitarian workers in the four countries targeted by the start of May, including 14 killed in South Sudan and one killed in Somalia, according to the Aid Worker Security Database.

Save the Children’s Lily Partland was recently deployed to South Sudan. “Conflict can create huge safety and logistical challenges,” she says. “In South Sudan, security risks and unofficial road blocks on the main roads have made it too risky to transport goods by road meaning NGOs and UN agencies rely on flights to ferry aid workers and their life-saving supplies around the country. This can dramatically increase the cost of getting aid to those most in need – it costs about 18 times as much as delivering aid by road.”

Meanwhile, the conflict in Somalia is limiting humanitarian access to some parts of the country, leaving people in need without access to life-saving support.

A severe drought there has left more than 20,000 children across nine districts at risk of starvation in the coming months unless they receive sufficient life-saving aid, according to a recent survey conducted by Save the Children in partnership with Concern Worldwide and Action Against Hunger.

Somalia Country Director Hassan Noor said Save the Children is working in creative ways to make sure those in need in insecure areas can be helped.

“In some parts of the country, we are sending in rapid response teams to distribute goods and services quickly before pulling out again. But the risks are still very high.”

In February 2017, two Save the Children staff working at a treatment centre for malnourished people in South Central Somalia were kidnapped by an armed group along with their driver.

And just last month, six staff working for an organisation delivering services on behalf of Save the Children were also kidnapped by an armed group when they became caught up in fighting.

All eight staff were eventually released unharmed.

Despite the inherent danger of providing life-saving aid in some of the world’s most troubled regions, Save the Children’s top priority is always the safety of its staff. With nearly 100 years of experience working on the frontline of humanitarian emergencies in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, we have extensive knowledge and expertise to protect staff so that they can continue their humanitarian work, even in the most hazardous environments.

Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds acknowledges that ongoing and unpredictable conflicts make it increasingly difficult for NGOs like Save the Children to get help to those most in need.

“Tragically, it’s children who are most at risk of malnutrition and in real danger of starvation during this hunger crisis, and its children who are suffering the most because of a conflict they have no part in,” he said.

“All parties to these conflicts must respect international humanitarian law and stop targeting civilians, and aid workers, to allow unimpeded access to the most vulnerable people.”

Image: Thomas Jepson-Lay/Save the Children

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