Chaos at food distributions in Somalia. Aid workers being kidnapped in exchange for food in South Sudan. Branches blocking the road on which food trucks drive, to make them stop. One by one, these are desperate attempts of people who are hungry and thirsty and at their wits’ end. The efforts of aid workers in these stressful circumstances deserve the highest degree of respect.
Many aid are campaigning at the moment, in order to collect funds for victims of hunger and thirst. Aid workers run additional risks in carrying out their work in the worst disaster areas. Still, they keep going. When we prepare aid workers for their duty in these areas, we always cover a number of topics: risk assessment, emergency response, family management, debriefing and aftercare.
To be able to provide aid well, our safety advisors map out the measures that need to be taken in the work area (assessment). During our training sessions, we discuss the risks of the work area intensively and practice the measures and procedures that have to be followed to allow for a safe environment.
As an aid worker, it is for example essential to continually identify yourself as a neutral party. To always explain why you are there and to closely follow procedures attached to careful distribution of aid. That implies: announcing your arrival, creating an accessible terrain that people can enter safely, as well as laying out a track for people to follow from registration to aid collection.
For aid workers, it is also of huge importance to remain neutral and impartial during their work. All parties involved need to provide access to the areas and people who require help so badly. Aid workers have to give priority to the worst affected. They need to be reached first, while the slightly less affected have to wait. Sometimes this is hard, almost inhuman.
Another part of the preparation is negotiation skills. Aid organizations need to negotiate area by area for access. This means ensuring good relations with government, but also addressing tribal authorities to gain access to areas under local rule.
We emphasize in our training that aid workers have to be on call 24/7 for messages about incidents that might jeopardize their situation (emergency response) and also have a number that they can call day or night for advice or help in case of calamities.
On a different level, we talk with the aid agency (NGO) to arrange debriefing and aftercare for people working abroad. And we ensure the safety of staff members who reside in the area permanently and run risks every day.
Much needs to be taken into account to safely work in crisis areas. Yet, however hard it may be, aid organizations do whatever they can to provide relief. Thanks to the work of passionate aid workers and financial support of all of us.