Humanitarians Under Attack: Delivering Aid in Insecure Settings

Release Date: 
Thursday, November 20, 2014

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Recent high-profile attacks on humanitarian professionals in Syria and Iraq call attention to a disturbing trend: humanitarian agencies face growing threats and attacks on their staff. These attacks endanger their lives, violate international humanitarian law, and jeopardize the effective delivery of emergency relief to populations in need.

Violence against humanitarian aid workers reached record highs in 2013, with 155 aid workers killed globally. So far this year, at least 82 more have been killed. While such violence occurs in a variety of humanitarian settings, humanitarians are most vulnerable in situations of extremely violent conflict and state collapse. Indeed, three quarters of all attacks on humanitarians in 2013 took place in just five countries: Afghanistan, Syria, South Sudan, Pakistan, and Sudan. Yet situations of the acute insecurity are also often in the greatest need of humanitarian assistance. In such contexts, humanitarian organizations face difficult legal and operational challenges in reaching populations in need while protecting their own staff and local partners from violence. Where states cannot guarantee the security of humanitarian actors, organizations must negotiate and cooperate with a variety of stakeholders to secure space for humanitarian action. In efforts to ensure their security and guarantee access to affected populations, however, humanitarians must take care not to jeopardize their adherence to the core humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence. Through conversations with experts and practitioners, this podcast will explore these challenges in light of recent developments in the field.

Key questions for discussion include:

  • What are the main security challenges and threats facing humanitarian workers, and how do these threats affect the delivery of humanitarian aid?
  • What dilemmas arise for principled humanitarian action in difficult security environments? How can humanitarians maintain their neutrality, impartiality and independence in the face of these security challenges?
  • How should organizations respond to these dilemmas in policy and practice?

Expert Commentators:

  • Phil Candy, Security Manager, RedR UK
  • Adele Harmer, Partner, Humanitarian Outcomes
  • Sean Healy, Humanitarian Adviser, Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), UK
  • Pascal Porchet, Deputy Head of the ICRC Delegation, Iraq
  • Lisa Reilly, Executive Coordinator, European Interagency Security Forum (EISF)


  • Humanitarian Outcomes (2014). Aid Worker Security Report 2014. “Unsafe passage: Road attacks and their impact on humanitarian operations.”
  • MSF (2014). “Where is Everyone? Responding to emergencies in the most difficult places.”
  • ICRC (2013). “Violence against health care, Part I: The problem and the law.” International Review of the Red Cross (Vol. 95, no. 889, Spring 2013).
  • ICRC (2013). “Violence against health care, Part II: The Way Forward.” International Review of the Red Cross (Vol. 95, no. 890, Summer 2013).
  • OCHA (2011). “To Stay and Deliver: Good Practice for Humanitarians in Complex Security Environments.”
  • Michaël Neuman, “Opinion and Debate: Is medical care really under fire? A debate on humanitarian security” MSF UK (11/19/2014)







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