Humanitarian Issues: Improving the lives of national staff on the frontlines
On 31 October 2011, a car bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, killed three national UNHCR staff. It was a harrowing reminder that national humanitarian workers – who come from the countries where they deliver assistance, and who constitute more than 90 per cent of aid workers in the field – bear the brunt of attacks in high-risk environments.
Since 2008, the total number of attacks against humanitarian workers has decreased by 26 per cent, from a peak of over 100 major attacks a year. This is because many humanitarian organizations have wound down their operations in the most volatile security environments, such as Somalia and Darfur, Sudan, since 2008.
But this trend has left national humanitarian workers – national staff of international agencies and national partner organizations – to deliver the majority of assistance to people in need.
And national aid workers, who act as field managers, security guards and drivers, are exposed to the greatest security risks. In 2010, more than 200 national humanitarian workers were victim to violent assaults, resulting in killing, kidnapping and serious injuries – 15 times the number of their international counterparts.
The threat to national staff is highlighted in a new OCHA-commissioned study, released in October and based on almost 1,200 responses, which analyses the security-risk perceptions of national humanitarian workers.
The study also found that gender had little to no direct affect on national workers’ security, although, in some contexts, respondents said female staff added to aid-worker insecurity due to cultural norms - particularly in places where people disapprove of women working alongside unrelated men.
International organizations have both a legal and moral responsibility to enhance support to national staff and local partners, and some humanitarian organizations have found innovative ways to support their national colleagues.
For example, some agencies grant their national personnel periodic home leave, or bonuses that mirror internationals’ hardship allowances.
The report also found that humanitarian organizations need to more consistently consult national staff and local partner organizations when undertaking security-risk assessments and analyses. It noted that national aid workers tend to have a more in-depth understanding of local dynamics.
“Very often we make decisions resulting in international staff being evacuated and national staff staying behind, and we do not spend enough time thinking about the context in which they are bound to operate,” said Valerie Amos, Emergency Relief Coordinator, at the NY launch of the ‘To Stay and Deliver’ study in April 2011. “Inequities between international and national staff need to be better balanced.”