UNITED NATIONS — Violent attacks against humanitarian workers have tripled over the past decade, resulting in more than 100 deaths annually, former U.N. humanitarian chief Jan Egeland said Tuesday.
The highest tolls are in conflict areas such as Afghanistan, Sudan and Somalia.
In a report released Tuesday by the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance, Egeland says that neutrality, impartiality and independence can help protect aid workers.
Egeland, the U.N. humanitarian chief from 2003 to 2006, told a news conference that aid workers for the United Nations and non-governmental groups are more vulnerable to attack amid the increasing politicalization of humanitarian efforts.
Egeland, now director of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, said that aid workers are more vulnerable to attack if local residents think they're taking sides.
"Humanitarian organizations must become more professional, more disciplined and more principled in how they act ... in high-risk circumstances," Egeland wrote in the report's introduction. "More resources for security measures are needed, especially among local non-governmental groups and national staff members."
Frustration with the international community has run especially high in Afghanistan in recent weeks following the publicity around a trial of U.S. soldiers charged with murdering Afghan civilians for sport and the burning of a Quran by a Florida pastor.
The Quran burning sparked countrywide demonstrations, including a protest in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, in which gunmen stormed a U.N. compound and killed three staffers and four Nepalese guards.
Egeland said the increased violence comes amid a proliferation of non-governmental aid groups, including 280 in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Egeland said humanitarian groups should focus on how to remain in dangerous areas and help rather than look for reasons to retreat. "We have an obligation to stay and deliver," he said. (AP)