On August 13 in Afghanistan, three humanitarian workers and their Afghan driver were shot and killed by Taliban gunmen. Larissa Fast, assistant professor of conflict resolution at the Kroc Institute and an expert in violence against aid workers, points out the risks of humanitarian work.

How often are aid workers direct targets of violence?
Intentional violence is now a leading cause of death among humanitarian workers around the world. Nearly 1,000 workers have died since the 1990s. In 2008, two dozen aid workers were killed in Afghanistan alone. Of course, this is not only a tragedy for the victims and their colleagues; wherever aid workers are killed or incapacitated, thousands of people in need go without assistance.

Why are aid workers attacked?
Some are targeted for political reasons — their attackers see them as representing Western interests, which are often controversial. Some are attacked for economic reasons — they have valuable resources such as food, equipment, vehicles, money. Others are victims of crime — an abundance of illegal weapons in certain parts of the world leads to violent acts such as ambushes and carjackings.

What can be done to protect humanitarian workers?
Aid organizations are using a variety of strategies from using communications technology to warn each other about dangerous roads where attacks have occurred to further educating communities about their organization’s mission in order to gain acceptance. The United Nations should create a centralized register to monitor aid worker deaths and government follow-up. But the ultimate responsibility lies with host country governments, who, under international law, have a responsibility to protect workers and hold assailants accountable for their actions.

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