South Sudan_CARE worker in grey shirt kneeling helping small child
Photo: Lucy Beck/CARE

In the crossfire: South Sudan is the deadliest place for humanitarian aid workers

Geneva, August 17, 2023 - Ahead of World Humanitarian Day, South Sudan continues to be the deadliest place for humanitarian aid workers, followed by Sudan, Somalia, and Ukraine, according to the Aid Worker Security Data Base. While 44 humanitarian workers were killed worldwide from January to August 2022, this number has reached 62 since January of this year.  

“This sharp rise constitutes an alarming trend”, said Sally Austin, CARE International Head of Emergency Operations. “Let us be clear: most of the time, these women and men were deliberately targeted as they were carrying out their mission to save lives. This is a gross violation of international humanitarian law and shows a blatant disregard for millions of vulnerable people, for whom the delivery of aid can make the difference between life and death.” 

Since the beginning of this year, 22 aid workers were killed in South Sudan, 19 in Sudan, 4 in Somalia, and 3 in Ukraine. The citizens of these four countries are suffering from conflict, hunger, economic instability, diseases, and the climate crisis, with almost 60 million people in need of humanitarian aid.  

Somalia_Female teacher in CARE vest sitting behind desk talking to lady in pink niqab

A CARE Somalia national staff member in the Mingis B displacement camp in Bosaso, where water and hygiene programming is being implemented. Photo: Edward Richard Ahonobadha/CARE

Year after year, it is the national staff of aid agencies who bear the brunt, accounting for over 85% of the victims of major attacks (fatalities, serious injuries, and abductions) between 2016 and 2020. So far in 2023, 87% of those killed are national staff. 

“It is heartbreaking to see that South Sudan continues to be the deadliest place for aid workers”, said Abel Whande, CARE South Sudan Country Director. “We recognize the efforts of the government in upholding and implementing the Revitalized Agreement on the Resolution of the Conflict in South Sudan. However, the country continues to face intercommunal conflicts, exacerbated by climate change-related disasters. These have resulted in some 7,8 million people, more than half of the population, facing acute food insecurity while 43,000 face famine.”  

Further north, at least 18 of the 19 humanitarians killed in Sudan this year perished during the ongoing conflict that escalated in mid-April, bringing death, destruction, and displacement. Over 20 million people – out of a population of 45 million – are affected by food insecurity, including three million children. “Humanitarian workers put their lives on the line daily to deliver the aid communities desperately need,” said David MacDonald, CARE Sudan Country Director. “The senseless targeting of aid workers and looting of aid supplies must stop.”  

Ukraine_Two ladies in white vests standing in front of destroyed buildings

Victoria Kurska and Anna Romanovna are part of Avalist, a local Ukrainian organisation providing humanitarian assistance to those affected by the conflict. Photo: Myriam Renaud/CARE

So far in 2023, four humanitarian aid workers have died in Somalia, a country severely impacted by conflict and the climate crisis and whose people face displacement and hunger. More than 8 million – almost one in two Somalis - are in need of humanitarian assistance.  

“With an unprecedented 363.3 million people in need worldwide, aid organisations should not have to choose between providing life-saving assistance and ensuring the safety of their staff,” added Ms Austin.  

World Humanitarian Day is marked on 19 August and has its roots in the 2003 suicide bomb attack on the UN headquarters in Baghdad that killed 22 and injured 150 aid workers. This year’s World Humanitarian Day theme, #NoMatterWhat, symbolizes the commitment to serve all those in need, everywhere in the world, and despite the odds. 

For media inquires please contact Iolanda Jaquemet, CI Secretariat Senior Humanitarian Communications Coordinator, via: [email protected]

Notes to the editor:

The analysis is based on Humanitarian Outcomes' Aid Worker Security Database, which lists global reports of security incidents involving deliberate acts of violence against aid workers, such as killings, kidnappings, and attacks that result in serious injury. As of 14 August 2023, there were 113 serious attacks on aid workers, including 62 fatalities, 34 kidnappings, and 89 people wounded.