Protecting safety of nongovernmental organization staff engaged on hazardous duties

Ensuring security of humanitarian aid workers in complex emergencies

Aid agencies can and should protect their staff working in emergencies, many of which involve violent conflict, banditry, sexual assaults, landmines and kidnapping.


To ensure the most creative working conditions for its staff, an NGO must strive to provide its staff with a sense of their own security. Any NGO working in conflict must make and re-make regular internal audits of staff emotional welfare and staff security and find practical ways to sustain both. Working in violent conditions exposes NGO staff to a wide range of risks to their personal security and emotional health. Any NGO operating in such environments needs to identify and develop appropriate and flexible procedures for security and staff welfare.

The term 'safety' relates to protection from illness and accidents, whereas 'security' relates to protection from acts of violence and crime. While the security of NGO staff, assets and programmes necessarily requires the investment of considerable time and resources, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that the greatest risks to the well-being of NGO staff arise not from security threats, but from safety issues. Safety threats such as vehicle accidents, malaria, water-borne disease, HIV and other health threats continue to be by far the largest causes of casualties among relief workers.

NGO and other humanitarian workers are subjected to more violence around the world as aid organizations enter situations of political instability to provide food, health care, and other emergency aid. As civilians have become targets of war, the NGOs who assist them are seen as targets as well.

In recent years, the number of security incidents involving humanitarian workers has risen to a frightening level. Humanitarian field staff losing their lives in the accomplishment of their duties is not a new phenomenon for any of the humanitarian organisations operating in the field. If working in conflict situation always involves a certain risk, what is new and particularly horrid and alarming about the tragedies of recent years is that humanitarian workers are targeted and killed deliberately.


Recommended practices each NGO should adopt include scenario thinking (what can go wrong), preventive action and clear management protocols, using analysis of local trends in crimes, incidents and tensions. Tools and methods include contact lists, maps, radio equipment, recruitment of local drivers and private security companies, insurance coverage and using the structure of UN personnel security system. NGOs should recognize and manage staff stress. Practical tactics include: have and know radio call ID's for staff and knowing radio protocols (clear channel by repeating "mayday" 3 times); track all agency vehicle movements; have in every vehicle a radio (if possible, hand-held radios for those moving away from the car), plus a first aid kit and mine-prodding equipment such as a long screwdriver or knife with 15 cm blade.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies