Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006: A Violent Year for Aid Workers

"There were 90 major incidents in 2006, compared with 72 in 2005 and 66 in 2004, according to New York University's Center on International Cooperation (CIC) and Britain's Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which have measured violence directed at aid operations since 1997." More here.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Burnout article

Although not humanitarian specific, New York Magazine has a lengthy and excellent article on workplace burnout and the latest research. A very informative read...


Natural Disaster Communication Disruptions

Following last Tuesday's earthquake off Taiwan, Internet connectivity in Asia is still being disrupted. Indonesia is expecting it to take up to a month for normal services to be restored. How would your office function if it lost Internet access for weeks? Do you have contingency plans in place to deal with such a situation? Normally when we think of natural disasters disrupting communications, it's large-scale incidents. But in this case, a geologic event only impacted a single, yet very important, piece of the regional infrastructure.


Incident: Harassment, Somalia

MSF reports Somalian government entered a clinic in Diinsor (Bay Province), threatening Somali staff and confiscating patient records. More here and here.


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Incident: Evacuation, Somalia

The UN evacuated 13 NGO staff members and a WFP employee to Kenya as Ethiopian troops entered Mogadishu.


Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Incident: Avian flu (fatalities), Egypt

A 26-year old man from the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya has died from H5N1. This marks Egypt's 10th known fatality from Avian flu (and the third, all from an extended family, since Sunday).

Labels: ,

Incident: Suspension, Somalia

WFP announced it was suspending air operations and relocating support staff due to the escalating conflict between Ethiopia and Somalia. Land operations are currently continuing. 12/29/06 Update - The UN is resuming flight operations into Somalia.


Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Nigeria Pipeline Explosion

The death toll continues to rise in Nigeria after a gasoline pipe exploded, killing hundreds of people who were trying to collect the leaking fuel. There have been similar incidents in Nigeria over the years with similar and greater numbers of fatalities.

From an NGO safety and security perspective, incidents like this reinforce the need to identify any hazard sites in close proximity to your organization's operations. Chemical plants, pipelines, munitions depots, and railways (used to carry hazardous materials) are all examples. Your contingency planning should include the potential impact if an accident occurs at one of these sites and how staff will respond.


Friday, December 22, 2006

GPS Resources

For some NGOs, GPS units have become indispensable for field and emergency work. In the old days, companies like Garmin and Magellan had a virtual monopoly on the GPS market, and there were only a limited number of products you could purchase. However within the past few years, the consumer market has literally exploded, and there are a bewildering number of GPS units available with new technology advances appearing almost weekly.

If you want to keep up with what's happening in the GPS world (or need advice on what type of a unit to select), I recommend three Web resources. is one of the oldest GPS sites on the Net, and provides reviews, firmware update news and general information. GPS Passion is a European site that features GPS news, reviews and discussion forums. NaviGadget is a blog that provides extensive coverage of the latest GPS devices to hit the market.

Each of these sites provides unique information, so if you're interested in GPS, be sure to give all of them a quick look.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Pentagon plans new command to cover Africa

Boston Globe article on how plans are under way to create a new US military command (AFRICOM) for Africa. Of interest is lots of mention of humanitarian missions as well as direct State Department involvement. If you do work in Africa, you'll want to keep an eye on how this develops.

Labels: ,

Shell families evacuated in Nigeria

It's not specifically NGO-related, but the current situation in Nigeria bears watching as attacks against oil interests have escalated, prompting the evacuation of 400 family members of Shell employees. Once primarily confined to kidnapping ex-pat oil workers for ransom, the past week has seen car-bombings and vocal threats of more violence by rebel groups.


Haitian kidnappings (literally)

Brief article on more abductions in Haiti, with criminals now targeting kids as their victims. It will be interesting if MINUSTAH's mandate is extended when it runs out in February of next year. So far the UN and local police have had a difficult time curbing the profitable abduction trade. At the present it seems likely that if left to its own, the situation will only worsen if the Haitian government shoulders sole responsibility for law enforcement duties.


Gaza violence putting humanitarian operation in jeopardy

United Nations Relief and Works Agency press release on how insecurity is impacting humanitarian efforts. Several incidents are mentioned.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Russia says aid groups shelter spies

Nikolai Patrushev, head of the FSB, Russia's state security organization, stated international NGOs and charities were increasingly being used as cover for foreign spy operations. The Danish Refugee Council was singled out in his comments. Time will tell if the rhetoric signals a new round of crackdowns on humanitarian organizations by the Russian government.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Incident: Evacuation, Darfur

The UN evacuated 71 staff members after gunmen raided several humanitarian compounds at the Gereida camp (Darfur's largest, with over 130,00 refugees). Vehicles, radios, money and equipment were stolen during the attack. No staff members were injured. The incident is being viewed as the single biggest attack on aid workers to date in the troubled area.

This marks the eighth evacuation for UN staff in the Darfur region this month. More info here.

12/22/06 Update - Action Against Hunger press release about evacuating 23 staff from Gereida following the attack. Other NGOs appear to have evacuated too, but haven't made official statements.


Incident: Avian flu outbreaks, Vietnam

New outbreaks of H5N1 Avian flu have been reported in Vietnam in two Mekong Delta provinces. At this point the outbreak has been confined to fowl. What is significant, is this is the first significant incident causing deaths (in this case ducks and chickens) since November 2005. Update 12/22/06 - CNN reports the outbreak continues to spread to other provinces.


Monday, December 18, 2006

More Darfur...

Oxfam and IRC press releases on the worsening situation in Darfur, with a number of mentions of recent humanitarian organization security incidents. Also an AFP news report that states 124 UN and NGO employees have left Darfur in the latest series of evacuations.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Incident: Abductions/Suspension, Iraq

Up to 25 people were abducted from an Iraqi Red Crescent office in Baghdad. Armed men dressed in Iraqi army uniforms took employees, visitors and security guards from the office. More info on this incident from IRIN. Update - Six people have been released (drivers and guards). Twenty-one employees and three visitors remain held captive. 12/18/06 Update - Reports are now saying 15 Red Crescent workers have been released. (I'd take any media reports with a grain of salt right now, unless they have been confirmed by Red Crescent officials.) Also the organization has announced it is suspending operations in Baghdad. 12/19/06 Update - 26 of the 30 abductees have been released and there is hope the remaining four will be freed soon. Still no information on motive.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

The Most Dangerous Roads in the World

And you thought the roads where you are working were bad. Check out the most dangerous roads in the world (complete with photos).

Friday, December 15, 2006

Iraqi Red Crescent accuses U.S. forces of attacks

Reuters article on Iraqi Red Crescent alleging a pattern of attacks on its offices over the past three years by US military forces. Hearts and minds, indeed.


Incident: Resumption, Myanmar

The Red Cross will be reopening field offices in Myanmar after the country's government said it would reconsider its decision to shut down the organization's operations.


Darfur Security Incident Chronology

Oxfam press release on the impact Darfur violence is having on humanitarian efforts with a list of security incidents that have taken place so far in December.


Thursday, December 14, 2006


If you're doing work in Africa, USAID runs a pretty slick Web site called the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS Net). Lots of real time and forecasted information relating to food security.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

NGO Security Blog Archives and More

I just finished setting up a complimentary Web site called The NGO Security Page. It features a full PDF (Adobe Acrobat) format archive of this blog organized by month. There's also an index with post titles you can scroll through. If any topics catch your eye, just click on the month to download that file. Handy for printing out or reading on your laptop during boring flights.

In addition to the archive, the site has links to a number of humanitarian security manuals as well as other reference materials. My goal is to put together an easy to use, one-stop resource center for humanitarian security practitioners. This is just a start and I'll be expanding site content over time. Any suggestions on what you'd like to see are gladly welcomed.

One other note. The new version of Blogger software now supports tagging. That means we can associate a tag with a post, for example a country name. In the future, that means you'll be able to easily view posted information by tag; such as location and perhaps incident type. (I'm still thinking through a tagging scheme to best classify information.)

And finally, as the NGO Security Blog approaches its one year birthday, I'd like to take a moment and thank all of its readers and contributors for their support. I hope the information is keeping you informed and helping to keep staff and beneficiaries safe. - JM

Rising insecurity affecting relief operations (Darfur)

IRIN article summarizing the current situation in Darfur and recent security incidents.


Incident: Vehicle attack (fatalities), Darfur

A truck contracted by Medair carrying medical supplies was attacked near the village of Sirba, in West Darfur. The vehicle was shot at and caught fire. No Medair staff were present during the incident, but it is reported up to 30 civilians traveling with the truck may have been killed during the attack. More details here.


The Best Archival CDs and DVDs

An essential part of a disaster recovery plan is backing up data on a regular basis and storing it at an off site location. IT departments typically use tape backup systems to do this. However in offices without dedicated IT staff or with constrained budgets, computer file backup is often performed with CD-ROMs or DVDs.

There's a dirty little secret when it comes to writable CDs and DVDs - they don't last forever, and all brands are not created equal when it comes to reliability.

Patrick McFarland has an excellent and quite detailed article on choosing the best brands of CDs and DVDs for archiving data. If you don't have time to read the rather lengthy article, his top pick is anything made by the Japanese company Taiyo Yuden (Verbatim and TDK often use their media).


Sunday, December 10, 2006

New Taliban Rules and NGOs

Several articles (1, 2) on a new set of 30 rules the Taliban will operate under in Afghanistan. Lots of security implications because among other things it spells out Taliban rules of engagement and how it will deal with NGOs and development work. A translated version of the full list of rules is here. If you do work in Afghanistan, this is an important read.


Saturday, December 09, 2006

Incident: Evacuation, Darfur

The ICRC and Goal withdrew staff from the town of Kutum in northern Darfur after an attack on an ICRC residence. The motive of the attack is currently unknown.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Saving Lives Together

An alert reader tipped us off about a new UN initiative called Saving Lives Together. It's a framework for best security practices when the UN and NGOs end up working together. Here's a link to an introductory letter dated November 22, 2006 and the three page framework document. Comments from humanitarian security practitioners are appreciated. Tell us what you think.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Global Corruption Barometer

Transparency International's annual Global Corruption Barometer is great reference in establishing a general idea of the amount of corruption in a country or region.

Just for fun, click on the above link (a PDF file) and check out Table 6 at the end of the report - page 22 to be exact. This table lists corruption's impact on different sectors and institutions by country. A value of 5 is extremely corrupt and 1 is not corrupt. What's interesting is there's an NGO column. And in countries like Turkey, Pakistan and Serbia there's a strong belief that NGOs are pretty corrupt. (I have a feeling you'll be a little surprised at the perceptions in other countries too.)

This illustrates the point of how important external perception can be in establishing context. If there's a cultural belief that NGOs are generally corrupt where you're working, you definitely should be factoring that in to your security plans. Always remember that perception equals reality.

Skype banned in India

Making phone calls over the Internet is becoming a common business practice for many humanitarian organizations. However if you're India and use Skype, you should probably start thinking about alternatives. It appears the Indian government is getting ready to ban foreign providers of voice over Internet services, including Skype. Not so much to control communications, but because the out of country businesses don't pay taxes and aren't bound by Indian law.

Incident: Mine, Eritrea

Two UN contractors were seriously injured last month when their vehicle struck a mine near the Eritrea-Ethiopia border. This is the eighth reported incident this year where mines have been set in previously cleared roads.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Internet-based Security Training

Last week I wrapped up teaching a three session series on humanitarian security topics. I've done a lot of classroom training over the years, but what was unique about this engagement was the courses were all delivered live over the Internet to people in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

As part of pilot project, LINGOs (an NGO that focuses on e-learning) and Relief International were testing a product called Elluminate to provide remote training to field offices. In addition to RI, staff members from IRC, Mercy Corps, CRS and iPas logged in for each of the three, hour-long, weekly Webinars to learn about assessments, vehicle operations and crisis management.

Elluminate supports voice and text messaging (just like Skype) plus has some slick features like imported PowerPoint presentations, whiteboards you can draw on, user polling, and quizzes. We tried a number of different student interaction approaches over the three sessions (including a simulation where a VIP visit turned into an abduction) and found that the software is quite effective for distance learning. I was a bit skeptical going into this test project, but by the end came away impressed and am convinced Elluminate can successfully be integrated into a safety and security training program.

(If you're associated with a humanitarian organization and are interested in the technology, all of the sessions were recorded and can be played back over the Net. Send me an email at: ngosecurity-at-gmail-dot-com and I'll put you in touch with someone from LINGOs so you can see it in use.)

Deteriorating Situation in Eastern Chad

MSF press release describing the current security situation in eastern Chad with some additional information from UNHCR.

Incident: Evacuations, Darfur

The UN and other NGOs are evacuating staff members from the main Darfur town of El Fasher due to the presence of the Janjaweed in the area and concerns the African Union base there may be targeted. There have been several Janjaweed attacks in the region over the past few days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Open Source Spying and NGOs

The New York Times has a fascinating article on how the US intelligence community is struggling to replace antiquated analysis systems with Internet-style wikis, blogs, forums and chat rooms.

In reading the article I see a number of parallels with many large NGOs similarly being stuck in the IT stone-age, and not taking advantage of collaborative information tools commonly found on the Net. This is unfortunate because good information is a cornerstone of effective safety and security practice. Picture a wiki where anyone could post up-to-date security information organized by country and city, or an informal global network of security practitioners who could brainstorm evacuation plans through instant messaging, or just-in-time training that could be delivered over the Net to specific offices during an Avian Flu outbreak. This and more is all currently possible with present-day technology that's relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.

I think much of the resistance to using these types of tools comes from a lack of understanding of their potential as well as a fear of relinquishing control - from both IT departments and management. It's difficult to sell established bureaucracies on decentralized approaches. Especially those that encourage information to flow freely between staff, field offices and other NGOs without first passing through and receiving approval from headquarters.

We will eventually see wide scale use of wikis, blogs and forums by humanitarian organizations. But ultimately I believe it's going to be the progressive and smaller NGOs that drive adoption, coupled with a next generation of humanitarian workers who use these tools on a daily basis in their personal lives and expect them to be available in their professional lives.

Incident: Resumption, Sri Lanka

Four months after seventeen Action Against Hunger staff members were murdered in Muttur, Sri Lanka, the organization is resuming operations in the conflict zone. The criminal investigation and hearings in the case are still continuing.

Incident: Evacuations, Chad

As fighting continues, the UN and NGOs are withdrawing more than 200 staff members from the towns of Guereda, Iriba and Bahai in eastern Chad.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Incident: Evacuations, Chad

US Marines in Kenya

Article on the recent arrival of US Marines to the northeastern part of Kenya with speculation about their mission. Very interesting accounts of local residents reaction to the humanitarian aid the Marines previously tried to provide.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cell Phone Tapping

With some cellular/mobile phones, it's possible to remotely switch on the microphone, turning the phone into a passive eavesdropping device without the owner's knowledge. While this technique has been speculated about for a number of years in certain security circles, a recent CNET article revealed for the first time that the FBI used this method to "bug" organized crime members. Details on how they did it are a bit murky but likely involves loading special software into the phone. There's at least one commercial program on the market called FlexiSpy that allows you to do this type of monitoring on certain types of phones. Theoretically, any phone that supports the Java programming language could have a custom eavesdropping application installed. Definitely more of a James Bond type of threat to corporate and government types versus humanitarian organizations, but still interesting. Update 12/4/06 - Lauren Weinstein has good information on how to tell if your cell phone is bugged.

International Aid Work a Deadly Profession

While trying to help those recovering from dire humanitarian disasters, aid workers often encounter potentially life-threatening situations involving physical attacks, kidnappings or harassment. Furthermore, in some cases, local governments aggravate these security risks by restricting NGOs' access to the civilians needing assistance or by denying the workers their rights to protection, as stipulated by international conventions. This Inter Press Service piece highlights some of the safety challenges facing humanitarian personnel in the field.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Darfur Satellite Images

Google Earth updated their database of high-resolution satellite images last week and included parts of Darfur. Here's Nyala, Sudan in to give you an idea of the level of detail. (Tip: The free, standalone version of Google Earth is better for field and planning use. It has more features, including displaying GPS coordinates wherever you drag the cursor. Highly recommended.)