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One of the most dangerous jobs in the world

August 19th, 2010

The picture you see attached is one of the images used for eye-catching banners that are currently exhibited on two main buildings in the heart of the European district in Brussels. They demand the attention of EU officials, Members of the European Parliament, journalists and many other passers-by. The message of the banners is simple and clear: “Don’t’ Shoot, I’m a Humanitarian Worker!”

This campaign marks the World Humanitarian Day. Seven years ago, on 19 August 2003, Sergio Vieira de Mello, a great humanitarian and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and 21 of his colleagues died when the hotel they were staying at in Baghdad was bombed. This day has now been given a special place in the calendar, to commemorate Mr. de Mello and his colleagues and all humanitarian aid workers who have lost their lives helping others. It is also a day that aims at t highlighting current humanitarian needs across the globe. This year’s theme is “I am a humanitarian aid worker”, which gives us all the opportunity to express gratitude to these courageous and dedicated people, and to raise awareness of the dangers and difficulties they face as they carry out one of the most dangerous jobs in the world.

The risks of kidnapping, harassment, detention and deadly violence have always been there. But over recent years there has been an alarming surge in attacks on aid workers. In 2008, there were 260 reported attacks, of which 122 were fatal. This represented a death rate higher than that of UN peacekeeping troops.

Many attacks on aid workers have taken place in conflict hot spots such as Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan and Sri Lanka. The motives for attacks are varied and often specific to very complex situations.

What I find particularly alarming is that aid workers are increasingly becoming deliberate targets. This is hard to comprehend since these people work to save lives and alleviate suffering. They do not take sides in a conflict and are prepared to help any person in need, regardless of their religion, race or political convictions.

While attacks on international aid workers are usually the ones to make the headlines, local staff is equally at risk. I am deeply concerned about the safety of all these aid workers. I am also greatly troubled by the consequences of these attacks which often reduce the humanitarian response and sometimes bring aid operations to a complete standstill.

During my first six months as Commissioner I have travelled to a number of countries where European Commission-funded aid is being delivered. During these visits I have had the opportunity to talk to aid workers, and to learn more about their needs and the challenges they face. I am a huge admirer of their bravery and dedication, and the ideals they defend in choosing their profession, putting sometimes their own lives at risk to save those of others.  There is no single or simple way to improve security for aid workers. But there are many small steps that can be taken to improve safety conditions. Today, in Pakistan but elsewhere in the world, thousands of relief workers of all nationalities are there, on the front line, helping deliver aid to those in need. This gives me strength and conviction for my own work today and tomorrow and over the coming years. I am determined to contribute to help them, and with them, to help those in need.

One of the most dangerous jobs in the world, 4.6 out of 5 based on 34 ratings

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4 Responses to “One of the most dangerous jobs in the world”

  1. Clusseau says:

    Having worked in EU delegations for 18 years I know how dangerous it is for humanitarian workers since they are often put into situations where no other development personnel would be permitted to work. However, I have seen a gradual eroding of their image and the respect for them. This has happened as the humanitarian response to situations has become more systematic and intense. It is a dichotomy that the respect for humanitarian workers has declined as their work has expanded. On the other hand, it is not surprising because it is now seen as another source of employment – at international rates - by the local populations.  Someone may work as a locally recruited humanitarian today and as a contractor on a roads project tomorrow. The same goes for international personnel who may turn up in a country under different guises on successive contracts. It is hard to maintain respect for a system when the work is reduced to “any old job as long it is with an international agency”. So, we need to work eradicating this image. 
    And this does not take into account the loss of respect from the perception that a lot of money is being made through fraud in the delivery of humanitarian assistance.

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  2. Green2Green says:

    Dear Commissioner,
    Can you please invite those workers to write to your blog?

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    • kristalinageorgieva says:

      Great idea to invite humanitarian workers to write in my blog.  Will do (actually, if anyone of them reads this comment — please join me in reaching out to those who care about service to humanity!).

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  3. kristalinageorgieva says:

    Thank you for your comment.  The best way to tackle the problem you describe is to support the development of local humanitarian organisations.  But we need to recognise that in some places (usually the riskiest) international aid workers are essential protection for the local relief organisations against domestic pressures, treats and violence, and that building up local capacity can be a slow process. 

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