10 years from Independence and South Sudan is one of the deadliest places to be an aid worker

South Sudan, alongside Afghanistan, tops the list as one of the deadliest places to be an aid worker according to an analysis done by CARE International on data from the Humanitarian Outcomes Aid Worker Security Database (AWSD). A devastating 78 aid workers have lost their lives since the beginning of this year, including 17 in South Sudan, and Afghanistan respectively. The 2 countries account for 44% of all humanitarian deaths so far this year (although the majority of Afghanistan’s fatalities occurred in a single incident).  

According to Rosalind Crowther, CARE South Sudan Country Director, “10 years on from independence, South Sudan is facing its worst humanitarian crisis ever. At the same time the safety and security of aid workers has seen a concerning deterioration. There was an alarming increase in aid workers attacked and killed, and aid supplies stolen in 2020 which has continued into 2021. A failure to ensure that humanitarians are protected will lead to unavoidable suspension or disruption of lifesaving operations in critically affected areas.”

After a two-year decline in fatal attacks against aid workers in South Sudan, killings increased sharply in 2020 and continue at a level not seen since 2016-2017. In 2021 this worrying trend is continuing. According to Humanitarian Outcomes, “Most attacks occurred in Jonglei and Unity states, but have also been rising in areas outside of these original conflict hotspots, reflecting an expansion of lawlessness and growing desperation in parts of the population traumatised by years of civil war.” 

On top of having the highest number of aid worker fatalities, South Sudan also recorded the most attacks against aid workers so far in 2021 and for the 2nd year in a row. Incidents in South Sudan account for 35% (40) out of the 115 recorded so far this year. 

Amin David Asu, CARE South Sudan Area Manager in Koch, says, “Working in South Sudan is so frightening. Since 2018 the situation has been very volatile, and we have seen a lot of cattle raids and revenge killings and this really traumatised all staff, making us fear for our safety and security.  This year, project supplies from the nutrition and women and girls' friendly centres were also looted, which disrupted the smooth service delivery of humanitarian aid to those already in desperate need.” 

This year’s World Humanitarian Day theme #TheHumanRace focuses on the impact of climate change on humanitarian crises. Both South Sudan and Afghanistan are countries facing complex emergencies that are being exacerbated by climate crises including flooding and droughts. 

Sheri Lim, CARE International Lead Advisor on Resilience and Gender says, “We know that climate change is a threat multiplier and can lead to increased tension and conflict within communities and populations, as people are forced to compete over already scarce resources. It also leads to increased displacement and more pressure on the communities hosting the displaced. Countries already in situations of armed conflict are disproportionately affected by climate variability and extremes. Climate change adds extra burdens, tensions and stress onto already severely stressed populations, and further reduces their ability to cope.” 


Notes to editor 

  • Analysis is based on the Humanitarian Outcomes’ Aid Worker Security database where Incidents are defined as deliberate acts of violence affecting aid workers, such as killings, kidnappings, and attacks that result in serious injury: https://aidworkersecurity.org/incidents/. Numbers of the database for 2021 are provisional for the first 6 months of the year, with full official annual figures released at the end of calendar years. 2020 figures are available here: Figures at a Glance 2021 | Humanitarian Outcomes 
  • There have been a total of 115 attacks on aid workers with 231 victims so far in 2021 (numbers accurate as of 13 August) across 20 countries including 78 aid workers killed compared to 74 this time last year. The vast majority – over 98% (212 nationals and 4 international incidents cases) of these incidents involved national staff members. South Sudan tops the list with 59 victims across 40 incidents so far in 2021, of which 13 incidents led to a total of 17 individual fatalities.