Aid workers attacked most often in West and Central Africa

DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - West and Central Africa is the most volatile region in the world for aid workers, accounting for more than half of attacks on humanitarians worldwide this year, aid agencies said on Friday.

Worsening militant violence across the region has seen aid workers attacked on nearly 200 occasions in Central African Republic, more than 115 in Mali and about 75 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, U.N. agencies and humanitarian groups said.

“The deteriorating trend in these countries ... is extremely worrying,” said Noel Tsekouras, regional representative for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

“Our staff and volunteers too often risk their own lives when coming to the relief of civilians trapped in conflict,” he said in a statement ahead of World Humanitarian Day on Saturday.

Central African Republic is the most troubling country in the region in terms of attacks on aid workers and civilians - and the situation is likely to worsen as militant violence intensifies - according to several civil society groups.

The fighting may plunge the country back into a humanitarian crisis 4 years after conflict first erupted, when Muslim Seleka rebels seized power, triggering reprisals by Christian “anti-balaka” militias, the U.N. aid chief said last month.

Militants have looted humanitarian compounds, attacked camps for the displaced and raided health facilities in several hotspots across the country in recent months, forcing many aid agencies to temporarily suspend their work and withdraw staff.

“Central African Republic is without doubt one of the most dangerous countries for aid workers,” said Joseph Inganji, OCHA’s country director. “We are concerned and saddened that we are unable to reach so many people in need due to the violence.”

So far this year, 82 humanitarians worldwide have been killed and 64 have been wounded or kidnapped - with 18 of the dead and attacked respectively being based in West and Central Africa - according to the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD).

In 2016, 109 aid workers were killed, 110 were injured and 68 were kidnapped in crises around the world, the data shows.

The U.N. General Assembly in 2008 declared Aug. 19 as an annual day to raise awareness of aid work, commemorate workers who have died while in the field, and mark the day in 2003 when 22 people were killed in a bomb attack on U.N. offices in Iraq.