LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Growing violence against aid and health workers in conflict zones is jeopardising humanitarian operations, British parliamentarians said on Tuesday as they urged the country to lead international efforts to hold aggressors to account.
Nearly 300 aid workers and health workers were killed and more than 850 injured last year in almost 1,200 attacks, according to figures cited in a report by parliament’s International Development Committee.
Although the aid worker death toll was slightly down on 2017, parliamentarians said the overall dangers appeared to be rising.
State and non-state parties were increasingly acting with impunity, but the world had failed to make a concerted effort to provide protection or seek justice, they said.
The parliamentarians called on Britain’s overseas aid department to help build an international consensus on how to enforce humanitarian law and investigate how to apply diplomatic pressure against those states that flout it.
The report warned that the increasing violence was threatening aid programmes, including global efforts to contain the spread of Ebola and eradicate polio.
The risks also meant aid agencies were having to divert resources from providing assistance to boosting security.
Such measures were in turn acting as a barrier between humanitarians and the communities they sought to help, sowing distrust and increasing threats.
The report said Britain needed to work with communities on the ground to build trust and end suspicion around aid programmes.
International Development Committee chairman Stephen Twigg said it was unacceptable that humanitarians should put their lives on the line without much greater international support.
“Whether through targeted acts of violence or indiscriminate bombing; we are witnessing a growing trend of attacks,” he said in a statement.
“But where are the consequences for those committing these atrocities?”
There were 126 aid worker deaths last year, according to the Aid Worker Security Database, the third highest toll behind 2017 (139) and 2013 (156). Another 143 aid workers were wounded and 130 kidnapped.
Two-thirds of the 221 attacks against aid workers occurred in five countries: South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic.
The most common form of attack was shootings in South Sudan, aerial bombardment by state forces in Syria and kidnappings in Afghanistan.
More than nine in 10 aid workers killed or injured last year were nationals of the country they worked in, reflecting the increased localization of aid work.
The report said it was crucial to ensure measures to safeguard international aid workers did not place local workers in greater danger.
The Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition said there were at least 973 recorded attacks on health facilities and personnel in 23 countries, nearly a third of them in Israel and the Occupied Territories.
The total was up from 701 attacks in 2017, but the coalition could not say if the rise reflected an actual increase or better reporting.
Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit news.trust.org
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