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Visualizing the disturbing trend of aid workers under attack

Data visualizations prepared by Mugdha Galande

Humanitarian and aid workers are often attacked, either by criminals in poor community simply taking advantage of a situation to relieve Westerners of their possessions or as symbolic targets for groups or individuals who are hostile to foreigners – even those who have come to help.

The latest attack on aid workers was in Yemen, where the International Committee of the Red Cross pulled staff this week after its office in Aden was attacked and workers were held hostage as the perpetrators stole equipment and money. As the interactive map below illustrates (based on data from the Aid Worker Security Database), these kind of attacks are more prevalent in violent regions or nations.

But as a number of media have reported, these attacks on humanitarian, aid and relief workers have been on the increase over the past decade all over the world (even taking into account a decline in attacks between 2013 and 2014):

Yearly trends

As The Guardian noted, the United Nations created World Humanitarian Day to mark the 2003 bombing of a UN office in Baghdad that killed 22 people. Aid workers have always operated under some level of risk but some believe the danger is increasing.

(The CIA’s 2011 ploy of having agents pretend to be health workers doing vaccinations in Pakistan certainly didn’t help reduce the risk to aid workers – and has contributed to ongoing murders of health workers by the Taliban in Pakistan).

Here are some more visual descriptions of the data available on aid worker attacks:

Means of Attack

Location of Attack

Gender of victim

Mugdha Galande

Mugdha Galande

Mugdha Galande, currently completing her Masters at Information School (MSIM program). In the past, she has worked with several nonprofits including UNFPA, Action Aid, and Oxfam India in several capacities (field worker to researcher).


About Author

Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.