Attacks against aid workers were more lethal in 2021 despite there being fewer major incidents relative to the two previous years. The 267 reported attacks resulted in 203 aid workers seriously injured, 117 kidnapped, and 140 killed—the most fatalities recorded since 2013.
Attacks affecting aid workers, total victims, and fatalities 2012–2022
The most violent context for aid workers continued to be South Sudan, followed by Afghanistan and Syria—a ranking that holds for numbers of attacks, victims, and fatalities.
Ethiopia’s brutal civil war resulted in that country joining the AWSD’s top five highest incident contexts for the first time in 24 years.
Numbers and types of attacks in 10 most violent contexts
Of the aid workers who died, 98% were national staff and 2% were international (expatriate) staff. More than half (53%) were staff of national NGOs. Most were killed by small weapons, in shooting incidents, and 21% of the fatalities occurred at an organisation office or project site. The second largest known cause of death was airstrikes and shelling, driven mainly by Syria. This type of casualty is expected to rise significantly in 2022 due to the war in Ukraine, where rocket attacks and shelling threaten civilians and aid providers equally.
2021 Fatalities and causes
The forthcoming Aid Worker Security Report will address the issue of operating in conditions of hot conflict, where risk management is challenged by the threat of random, collateral violence such as airstrikes, shelling, landmines and UXOs. Already a major risk factor in Syria and Yemen, indiscriminate military attacks stand to become an increasingly greater obstacle to humanitarian response in Ukraine, where prospects of successful deconfliction with the Russian Federation’s military appear bleak.