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Security Issues in Humanitarian Operations

Humanitarian response and recovery teams face a lot of hardships when they go to the sites of disasters, regardless of whether the disasters are human-made or caused by nature. Humanitarian workers face dangers such as infectious diseases, sunburns, exhaustion, and harsh conditions in general, but they also face serious threats that come from agents of crime in vulnerable areas. There may be terrorist groups, or the affected area may be in the middle of internal conflict or a war between different nations. In these cases, humanitarian workers are exposed to killings, kidnapping, rapes, and assaults.

In the past few decades, the protection of the aid industry has decreased, while the volatility and variety of dangers have increased, which puts vulnerable areas in an awkward position. The perceived risk of humanitarian work has increased, but despite this, humanitarian missions have become more resilient, persisting even when workers are killed by terrorists (Duffield, 2012). This means that humanitarian workers are facing more danger but are doing more work now than in past decades. However, this also entails that humanitarian action is more difficult because workers have to try to avoid being attacked while at the same time doing their job. They receive protection in some places, but in other areas, they cannot count on guards or military to escort them and provide security for them.

Another security issue besides the risks suffered by aid workers in underdeveloped countries is the relationship between refugee intake and the risk of terrorism prevalence in the area. Refugee camps are given resources that can attract terrorist groups that want to loot and take those resources for their benefit. This puts refugees and aid workers in more danger (Choi & Salehyan, 2013). Security, therefore, has to play an essential role in disaster and humanitarian response, in a world where conflict-related disasters are commonplace. Humanitarian workers face the fact that they have to risk their integrity in order to do their job, and they continue to do so.

Security concerns and issues have a significant impact on humanitarian and disaster response and recovery. In the response phase, help has trouble reaching the disaster site and the victims on time because criminal groups are in the way. Sometimes, aid cannot reach the victims at all because criminals abduct them before they can even start working. In the recovery phase, crime and conflict also hinder humanitarian efforts of recovery by looting, stealing, and hurting survivors and humanitarian workers.

Every disaster and humanitarian situation is unique. Some of them will be more dangerous than others, and in some cases, it is better not to send aid, as when there is a substantial probability that support will not reach the destination or workers will be harmed or killed. Institutions such as the UN have to be responsible when they send aid to dangerous places, and they have to be prepared to rescue their workers in case they are abducted.


Choi, S.-W., & Salehyan, I. (2013). No good deed goes unpunished: Refugees, humanitarian aid, and terrorism. Conflict Management and Peace Science, 30(1), 53–75. doi: 10.1177/0738894212456951

Duffield, M. (2012). Challenging environments: Danger, resilience and the aid industry. Security Dialogue, 43(5), 475–492. doi: 10.1177/0967010612457975

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