International development worker: Dangerous countries

The United Nations is one of the leading aid relief bodies in the world and has on numerous occasions negotiated ceasefires to allow the flow of food and medical assistance. Often central to aid relief activity the United Nations has highlighted a number of countries in which international development workers are expected to operate in extreme circumstances. Some of the most dangerous countries in the world at this moment in time include:-


While not always reported in detail by the mass media, Saudi Arabia has been at war with elements of Yemen for the last four years. It is believed there are around 16 million Yemenis people facing “severe acute food insecurity” as well as many fatalities. This equates to a staggering one into Yemenis people having insufficient food to function. Some aid relief workers have made it into the country but the warring factions are refusing demands for a ceasefire. Many people rank Yemen as the most dangerous country in the world for aid relief workers.


Many people will be unaware but in 2018 the ongoing war in Afghanistan claimed the lives of more than 40,000 soldiers and civilians – an annual high for the current war. In what is turning out to be a nightmare scenario for the aid relief agencies, the US government has given mixed signals regarding its future intentions. There was talk of withdrawal, which was later played down, leading to something of a power vacuum in some parts of the country. As a consequence, this has led to flashpoints right across the country making it extremely difficult for aid relief to get through.


The ongoing civil war within Syria has become something of a proxy war between the US and Russia. The growing demand for not only food and water but also help repairing transport networks and homes has put relief agencies in a very difficult situation. There are still many areas of Syria in which the safety of international development workers cannot be guaranteed. So, on one hand there are huge amounts of aid available but on the other hand it is proving extremely dangerous and difficult to get it to the people who need it.


Many international development agencies have been targeting Nigeria for long-term education programs. In many cases this has proved to be extremely successful but 2019 is likely to see significant conflict amongst warring factions. There are some areas of Nigeria that do not recognise the national government which has led to ongoing battles for many years. Obviously, this kind of scenario is a nightmare situation for those looking to assist with aid. If the safety and well-being of relief workers cannot be guaranteed it is very difficult to justify putting boots on the ground.

South Sudan

While currently there is an ongoing ceasefire, which could potentially last to the elections in 2022, a staggering 400,000 people have died in the near five-year civil war in South Sudan. There are serious concerns about the stability of the region bearing in mind that a similar deal was agreed back in 2015 which lasted about 12 months. The economy has collapsed, food prices have skyrocketed and civilians have been demonstrating on the streets against the government. Even with the current ceasefire, there is an air of inevitability across South Sudan that the fighting, the uncertainty and needless killings will soon return. This is an area of the world desperately in need of assistance by international development bodies but one which is extremely volatile.


Despite the fact that Venezuela has enormous oil reserves this is a country which is on the verge of economic and political collapse. We have seen the re-emergence of deadly diseases, a staggering 3 million people have fled the country and more are likely to follow suit. The current government is unwilling to accept the severity of the situation and has refused all humanitarian relief. The legal system is creaking, lawlessness is prevalent and many are going without food. Until the authorities acknowledge the severity of the situation and agree to accept outside assistance, the unsafe environment within Venezuela will simply get worse.

DR Congo

The Democratic Republic of Congo is currently in the grip of the second worst outbreak of Ebola in history. The number of deaths associated with the often fatal condition has now passed 1000 with many believing the real figure could be double that. One of the main problems regarding relief work is the fact that locals are suspicious and believe politicians are to blame. We have seen numerous reports of international development workers being attacked with some fatalities. The problem is that until the local community trust the relief aid workers the number of Ebola deaths and infections will only worsen, as will the number of attacks on aid workers.

Attacks on aid workers

It will surprise many people to learn that according to the Aid Worker Security Database back in 2017 there were 158 major incidents of violence against humanitarian operations across 22 different countries. The attacks involved 313 aid workers with 139 killed, 102 wounded and 72 kidnapped. Between 2008 and 2017 the number of attacks and the number of victims has remained fairly constant although there was a surge in attacks and victims in 2013. The majority of this upsurge occurred in South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic.

There is no doubt that the international development sector and aid relief community are being stretched to the limit with long-standing wars and new ones emerging on a regular basis. Even though the Geneva Convention legally guarantees the safe passage of relief workers, even within volatile countries, not all parties abide by the convention. This has led to the heart breaking situation of relief workers being unable to gain entry to war-torn countries to address serious humanitarian issues. Many of these conflicts are claiming hundreds of thousands of lives leaving people destitute, desperate and starving.

To Conclude –

There is unfortunately a very fine balance between addressing humanitarian issues and placing international development workers in dangerous scenarios. We have the likes of Yemen where both parties are unwilling to give an inch and allow humanitarian aid workers through. We have the DR Congo where locals suffering from Ebola are highly sceptical of politicians and aid workers. The fact that this particularly dangerous disease has been able to re-emerge, wiping out in excess of 1000 people so far, would seem to justify the suspicions of the locals.

There is a need to open lines of communication with all warring factions, use the influence of local leaders and basically negotiate the safe passage of relief aid workers. However, in many parts of the world this is easier said than done.