Humanitarian field workers put themselves at risk every day, whether it’s delivering aid in the aftermath of a natural disaster, peacebuilding in post-conflict countries or supporting refugees fleeing civil wars. They also operate in some of the most complex and challenging security environments globally, and are routinely exposed to extreme violence. And whilst many of the largest NGOs that implement aid programmes have a clear understanding of their duty of care responsibilities for their field workers, leading international security expert, Healix International believes there is a risk the security aspects of foreign assignments can be forgotten in the rush to act.
Healix International is committed to supporting the humanitarian community to do what it does best; save and improve lives. It is therefore launching discounted security risk management subscription packages, tailored to the specific needs of not-for-profit organisations. All NGOs are also now entitled to at least a 10% discount on Healix International security consultancy services, regardless of subscription.
“The first stage of an emergency humanitarian relief programme is often launched with few priorities other than to secure food, shelter and protection for those most at risk – whether as the result of a refugee crisis, conflict or natural disaster”, explained Gavin Kelleher, Security Coordinator, Healix International. “However, because of the criticality of responding quickly, and a lack of familiarity with the local environment, emergency response programmes, personnel and assets are regularly put in situations where they are at a high risk of being targeted by malicious threat actors.
“Implementing a risk management plan that can be activated immediately for emergency response programmes, as well as providing consistent support for on-going projects is critical.”
Following a one-month ground assessment of one of the world’s largest humanitarian relief programmes, in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Gavin Kelleher identified some key learnings for organisations working in humanitarian crises.
Procurement personnel are some of your most vulnerable
Within any humanitarian crisis, the sourcing of goods and services at the local level is essential to the delivery of operations – whether this be building materials, vehicle hires or agricultural produce. The surge in the volume of procurement requests will almost certainly be beyond the capacity of most established local suppliers at the onset of a crisis, and this leads to new market entrants setting up businesses and competing with each other over lucrative contracts.
While most NGOs have established procurement procedures in place for operations that they have been running for a long time, general procurement protocols are rarely applicable in local contexts during emergency settings, and are often unenforced owing to the time criticality of aid delivery. As a result, the staff at the frontline of procuring services at scale are often some of the most vulnerable personnel in an emergency response programme. They can face intimidation, harassment and sometimes physical abuse or threats of harm to pressure them into awarding high value contracts.
From the outset of an emergency response programme, consideration therefore needs to be given to how the procurement process is going to work within a new relief programme, and how procurement staff can be adequately protected from harassment and abuse.
Corruption is all around
In most environments where crises are likely to occur, it is a sad fact that corruption is often entrenched. To varying degrees corruption will be regularly encountered in interactions with local police, politicians, military officers and other government agencies. Left unchecked, corrupt practices could cap the effectiveness of a crisis response programme, damage relations with beneficiaries, and undermine donor confidence in an organisation’s ability to operate with impartiality.
Staff must, therefore, be prepared for the likelihood of corruption, with effective training as well as back-up to report incidences of corruption.
Emergency response plans should cover beneficiaries and staff
Time and time again NGOs are developing quality disaster and emergency preparedness plans that solely focus on their beneficiaries. They know exactly what they will do should an outbreak of a communicable disease occur within the beneficiary community, but they have no plans in place should a staff member become infected. A clear plan of vaccinations for aid workers should be part and parcel of any humanitarian programme.
“We understand that NGOs operate in a unique context, and are governed not just by their own leadership but by the inputs of their stakeholders – whether they be donors, beneficiaries or partners in government”, added Gavin Kelleher. “Acceptance, donor confidence and reputational integrity are critical assets in the humanitarian sector, and at Healix we are committed to helping organisations protect these even in the most extreme environments.”
Healix International’s Global Security Operations Centre (GSOC) offers best-in-class emergency response, risk intelligence and consultancy services. Staffed 24/7 by teams in London and Singapore, GSOC enables clients to manage the risks posed to them and carry out their work wherever they are in the world. A multi-discipline team, GSOC brings together experience in military, law enforcement, academia, government and the NGO sector to offer an informed and holistic approach to security risk management and intelligence analysis.
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