LONDON (AlertNet) - The number of aid workers killed, kidnapped or wounded in 2011 jumped to a record 308, from 245 in 2010, according to a new report from the Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD).
The rise in major attacks on aid workers in 2011 reversed a two-year decline. Worldwide there were 151 major incidents of violence against civilian aid operations, up from 129 in 2010.
Of the 308 individual victims in 2011, 86 aid workers were killed, 127 seriously wounded and 95 kidnapped, says the report.
Nearly three quarters of the attacks - 72 percent - took place in a small number of highly insecure countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Sudan and South Sudan. The concentration of incidents in a few aid settings is an ongoing trend, the researchers say.
The AWSD, a project managed by research consultancy Humanitarian Outcomes, has tracked data on aid worker attacks since 1997.
Since 2009, kidnappings have become the most frequent means of violence against aid workers, showing the steepest and steadiest rise over the past decade, the report says. Most abductions tend to end in a negotiated release, it adds.
In 2011, around 13 percent (28) of aid attack victims were international staff and 87 percent (280) national staff. As international staff account for only about four percent of all aid workers, the rate of attacks on international workers is higher than for nationals, although nationals make up the vast majority of victims, the report notes.
A dip in explosives-related casualties is due mainly to a fall in the number of bombing incidents in Afghanistan and Pakistan, after the withdrawal of much of the international aid presence from the most insecure areas of these countries.
Data for 2012 is not yet complete, but the AWSD shows there were 77 major attacks and 134 victims up to October 11, 2012.
HIGH RISK IN FAILING STATES
The statistical analysis in the report shows that attacks on aid workers are most prevalent in weak, unstable states and those experiencing armed conflict. There is also a link with low levels of rule of law.
The report describes attacks on humanitarian workers as "a symptom of state failure as well as a product of war", and says that "This limits options for humanitarian actors, as the host states formally responsible for providing secure access for aid operations are fundamentally ill-equipped to do so."
The study argues that the biggest challenges to aid workers’ security are where state institutions are under-resourced and cannot tackle insecurity within their borders. This is made worse where violent extremist groups operate, with aid organisations becoming attractive targets for those seeking material or political spoils, the report says.
For example, in South Sudan, the world's newest nation, poorly paid government security forces often commandeer aid agency vehicles and other equipment, and detain and harass aid staff. This has deterred aid agencies from approaching government officials for security advice or support, the report says.
"Aid agencies must analyse the potential of the host government to protect and assist aid operations in each context, understanding that where the capacity or political will for this is absent, they are wholly responsible for their own security," the researchers caution.