The memories of that horrible morning are still alive when on 8 February 2017, I heard the news of six of the staff members of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) were killed in cold blood in Afghanistan. The Afghan staff members of the ICRC were carrying relief supplies for areas hit by devastating snowstorm. The pain and the grief of the families and colleagues of those killed was unbearable, also think about those hundreds of thousands who could not receive life-saving assistance and of whom many might have died, never to be known by civilized world. This is the impact of violence on aid workers that it has a knock-on effect which goes way beyond the single incident and in most of the cases the actual impact is never reported.
Today, the world is observing World Humanitarian Day under the theme ‘NotATarget’ to draw attention towards growing number of attacks on aid workers, particularly in violence affected countries.
August 19, was designated by the General Assembly in 2008 to coincide with the date of bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 in which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues were killed.
Every year since then, the humanitarian community has organized global campaigns to commemorate the WHD, advocating for the safety and security of aid workers providing life-saving aid on the frontline of wars or conflicts, and for the survival, well-being and dignity of the affected people.
As the humanitarian workers deliver aid, and medical workers treat the wounded and sick, they are directly targeted, treated as threats, and prevented from bringing relief and care to those in desperate need.
According to studies by the international institutions, the aid worker casualties have tripled to over 100 deaths per year since the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad in 2003.
The attacks are rampant in countries experiencing armed conflicts or insurgencies than those at peace which seem to be defined by insurgents, terrorist groups and other violent actors with ideologies that increasingly disregard the rules of war.
As a result of conflicts, children are taken out of school and recruited to fight, schools are bombed, families are displaced from their homes, women are sexually abused by the fighters and communities are torn apart.
The countries facing more violent conflicts see a greater number of attacks on the aid workers.Over the past 20 years, 4,132 aid workers have been attacked worldwide. In 2016, 91 aid workers were killed, 88 were injured and 73 were kidnapped in the line of duty. 2013 remained the most violent year when 474 aid workers were attacked.
The majority of attacks in recent years took place in six countries which are Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan and Syria.65 per cent of all attacks occurred in these five countries.
Afghanistan has seen the highest number of casualties among humanitarian workers in the world, with 895 attacked since 2001 and 325 killed.Pakistan also remains one of the deadliest countries in the world for the aid workers with 12 incidents of attacks reported on relief workers.
Majority of these attacks targeted the polio workers in which men and women were either injured or gunned down in cold blood in different parts of the country, especially the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Feeling the pain and suffering that visit upon the aid workers and people alike in conflict areas, the Pakistan Red Crescent (PRC) signed a Charter of Humanity with the Ittehad Tanzeemat Madaris Pakistan on February 7, 2015. The signing of the Charter was an initiative of PRC Chairman Dr Saeed Elahi.
Under the charter, the Ulema and prayer leaders will use the pulpit to convey a message to different militant groups that volunteers and aid workers engaged in different humanitarian welfare service projects should not be targeted, as being noncombatants their sole objective and purpose is to cater to those needing help and assistance the most.