Thursday, January 25, 2007

Perspective: Violence tests limits of humanitarians' resolve

The bombing of the International Red Cross headquarters in October, 2003, which killed or wounded more than 30, led to a mass exodus of relief organizations. In December of 2006, the Red Crescent -- Iraq's last remaining relief organization ---closed its Baghdad operations after its workers were kidnapped. Some have still not been released, and their status is unknown.

The slaying last week of an American working for a democracy-building project in Iraq is just the latest in a series of attacks testing the resolve of relief groups and other international organizations working there.

Since 2003, at least 82 Iraqi and international aid workers have been killed, 80 kidnapped and 245 wounded in Iraq, says Kasra Mofarah of the NGO Coordination Committee in Iraq, which assists non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as charities and relief groups.

Those figures do not include attacks on staff members with democracy-building groups such as the Washington-based National Democratic Institute. Last week, institute staffer Andrea Parhamovich, 28, was killed when her convoy was ambushed in Baghdad.

As the violence gets worse, groups that aim to help rebuild Iraq and provide medical and other services are pulling out or relocating to less violent parts of the country, even as the need for their assistance has grown.

"The bigger organizations have made a decision to pull out," usually after a staffer has died, says Samuel Worthington, president of InterAction, an alliance of about 165 humanitarian organizations. "We have the world's largest unfolding humanitarian disaster … and our ability to function on the ground compared to the size of the disaster is completely out of sync."

Read the rest at USA Today