August 27, 2019
    The Dangers Aid & Development Professionals Face On-The-Ground Are Real

    National and international humanitarian workers are facing increased levels of insecurity and violence in conflict-affected areas. How can NGOs and INGOs prepare their workforce and improve aid worker security for the challenges they may face during and after their deployment?

    According to the Aid Worker Security Report, 409 aid workers were impacted by major violence in 226 incidents in 2018, which is the second highest year on record.[2] Humanitarian workers face dangers including aerial bombardment, kidnappings, attacks with small arms, and sexual violence; with sexual violence being predominantly (but not exclusively) experienced by women.[3] Research has shown that national and international workers face different risks and levels of support – a disconnect which must be acknowledged and acted upon within the sector.[4]

    Safety, security and wellbeing at the forefront of discussions in the sector

    In recent months, the safety, security and wellbeing needs of humanitarian workers have been at the forefront of discussions in the sector. In early August, the House of Commons International Development Committee released a report on the scale, impact and management of threats faced by those working in humanitarianism, calling for a Safety and Security Summit and the establishment of “consensus around best practice and pathways forward.”[5] Concurrently, the UK network for organisations working in international development, Bond, published a blog post on aid workers’ mental health, asking what strategies NGOs can utilise to increase wellbeing and resilience.[6] 


    Comprehensive, effective responses are needed

    Discussions around strategies to better secure the safety of aid and development professionals exist in separation to discussions around their mental health and wellbeing. Yet mental health problems such as depression, stress and anxiety can be brought on by insecurity experienced during humanitarian work, with a survey of 754 aid workers in 2015 finding that 79% had experienced mental health issues, and 60% citing particular incidents as impacting their mental health.[7] Of those who had experienced mental illness, 63% said this had impacted on their ability to do their job.[8] This opens up the question, do aid workers face increased levels of insecurity because of a lack of support for their mental health? A united approach to the interlinked issues of security, safety and mental health could begin to provide a reflective picture of the challenges faced by humanitarian workers and help develop a comprehensive, effective response.


    HAD’s new safety and security course for humanitarians

    Recognising the need in the sector, HAD has recently started to offer a ‘Safety and Security for Humanitarians’ course, which was trialled with Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) staff. IRW is an international NGO with 35 years’ experience providing life-saving assistance to people affected by conflict and crises, often in dangerous and volatile conditions. The course offer was initiated through conversations with IRW after seeking security training externally. HAD recognised that a course could be developed by in-house experts: to increase accessibility for IRW staff and applicability to scenarios and contexts in which they will be working. HAD’s position as part of the IR family, and our extensive experience of providing training courses, means we are well-placed to offer security training to the humanitarian and development sector.


    Providing participants with theoretical and practical tools

    The pilot course was offered across four days, held in August 2019. The first two-day phase covered prevention and impact mitigation, providing participants with the theoretical and practical tools to enhance their personal security. The second phase was reactive, immersing participants in real-life scenarios and giving them the chance to practice and evaluate their responses. Diane Conway, HAD’s lead trainer on the course, said: “NGO’s continually have to balance their responsibilities towards populations caught in conflict with their responsibilities to protect employees. There will always be a degree of risk, however many dangers are avoidable. This two phase course enables participants to identify mitigation measures that can significantly reduce the likelihood of the threat occurring, and to practice dealing with incidents to reduce the impact if it does.”


    Excellent feedback by participants

    An evaluation of the course was captured by gathering feedback from participants, who were encouraged to reflect upon what they had learnt, as well as the element of the course which they found most useful. Participants praised the relevance of the practical skills taught, such as using a two-way radio and changing a tyre – basic security skills which could mitigate or prevent a security incident, or form part of a contingency plan. The quality of the real-life scenarios was also commended, with one participant highlighting the immersive nature of the day, which encouraged him to critically analyse everything happening around him and to deal in facts rather than assumptions.


    All-female trainer team: part of HAD’s commitment to gender justice

    Female soldier turned security and resilience trainer, Alison Baskerville, delivered and designed the second part of the course in partnership with HAD. Alison was inspired to create training which was inclusive and accessible after attending trainings which failed to reflect the participants in the room. The pilot course was delivered exclusively by women, including the self-defence component, reflecting IRW’s and HAD’s commitments to gender justice within their programming and operations.


    Plans to expand HAD’s current training offer

    HAD is planning to expand the content of the aid worker security course to fully embrace wellbeing and mental resilience, and to build on outputs by organisations such as Bond which are highlighting a lack of provision for mental health within the sector. Such an expansion would tie in with HAD’s current training available to the sector, which includes ‘Mental Health First Aid’, ‘Stress Management’, and ‘Recruitment and Selection.’ HAD’s recruitment training is part of IRW’s commitment to improving the sector by hiring the best staff, for the safety and security of those IRW works with in the field.

    Learn more about our Safety and Security training here

    Learn more about our Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training here


    Written by Rebecca Fletcher
    Research and Development Intern



    Aid Worker Security Report 2019

    World Humanitarian Day: Experts speak out about mental health

    House of Commons International Development Committee: Tackling violence against aid  workers

    How can NGOs support aid workers’ mental health?

    Guardian research suggests mental health crisis among aid workers