Record violence targeting aid workers and civilians in West and Central Africa, UN and NGOs call for immediate action

Report
from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Published on 18 Aug 2017

(Dakar, 18 August 2017): Persistent conflict and violence targeting aid workers and civilians in West and Central Africa make it one of the world’s most volatile regions for humanitarian action, regional directors of UN agencies and NGO partners warned ahead of the commemoration of World Humanitarian Day, on 19 August.

So far, in 2017, crises across the region recorded more than half of all violent incidents against aid workers in the world: 194 occurred in the Central African Republic (CAR), 116 in Mali, 76 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and 19 in Nigeria. Eighteen humanitarian workers have lost their lives.

“The deteriorating trend in countries like CAR, the DRC and Mali is extremely worrying. Our staff and volunteers too often risk their own lives when coming to the relief of civilians trapped in conflict,” said Noel Tsekouras, West and Central Africa Regional Representative for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “We are calling upon all parties to conflict in the region, African leaders, and the global community, to urgently reinforce the protection of civilians, including children, as well as the security of aid workers, their facilities and life-saving work, in full respect of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

“On World Humanitarian Day, we acknowledge and reflect on the sacrifice made by humanitarian workers, to recognise their contribution to help and protect civilians affected by conflicts, and to support the families and individuals forced to flee violence and persecutions,” said Liz Ahua, UNHCR Regional Representative for West Africa and Regional Refugee Coordinator for the Nigeria Situation. “Refugees and displaced people are not a target. The camps where they seek refuge, the communities where they look for protection, are not a target. Together, we must all stand up to protect them from becoming victims of conflict.”

In West and Central Africa, around 8 million people are currently displaced and almost 20 million are in urgent need of protection, more than half of them children. The Democratic Republic of Congo is the African country facing the highest number of displaced people, with 3.8 million having fled within the country and about a half a million into neighbouring countries. In the Central African Republic, continued fighting between armed groups has forced one million people, more than 1 person out of 5, to flee their homes.

“Women and children are the silent victims of multiple attacks, especially in the conflicts we see in this region,” said Paul Taylor, Regional Director of the International Rescue Committee. “Sexual and gender-based violence is still not talked about in countries like CAR. Women and children that have been abused are stigmatized in their communities and need our support.”

"Our ability to provide quality medical aid in emergency contexts and to ensure the safety of our staff is based on our impartiality and professional ethics,” said Augustin Augier, Secretary General of the health emergency organisation ALIMA. "Our main objective is to save the lives of the most vulnerable populations."

Across West and Central Africa, 34 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance. In many regions affected by conflict, persistent insecurity and violence against aid workers are hindering humanitarian access and assistance. Hundreds of thousands of people remain cut off from aid. In addition, the humanitarian response in the region remains severely underfunded. The joint UN and NGO appeals to respond to the most urgent needs across the region are, on average, only 32 per cent covered.

“Humanitarian staff and their life-saving work are needed more than ever at a time when hunger, instability and natural disasters are wreaking havoc on people’s lives in many parts of West and Central Africa,” said Abdou Dieng, the UN World Food Programme’s Regional Director for West and Central Africa. “We need to send a strong, united message that our vital workers and civilians are #NotATarget.”

Context note:

  • August 19 marks the anniversary of the 2003 United Nations Headquarters bombing in Baghdad, which claimed the lives of 22 people. In an effort to raise awareness of humanitarian assistance worldwide – and the people who risk their lives to provide it – the United Nations General Assembly in 2008 designated August 19 as World Humanitarian Day.

  • In 2016 in the world, 288 aid workers were victims of violent attacks including 101 who lost their lives, 98 who were injured and 89 who were kidnapped. With the exception of 2013, there has been an average of 278 victims in the past 11 years. The majority of attacks in 2016 took place in Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria.

  • Preliminary figures for 2017 are based on data collected by International NGO Safety Organisation (INSO) and The Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD).

For more information and interviews:

Eve Sabbagh, Public Information Officer, OCHA West and Central Africa, +221 77 569 96 54, sabbaghe@un.org

Seynabou Niang, Public Information Officer, OCHA West and Central Africa, +221 78 637 06 24, niang3@un.org

To find out more about World Humanitarian Day and the 2017 #NotATarget global campaign, please visit: www.worldhumanitarianday.org

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs:

To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit http://unocha.org/.