Amidst coronavirus pandemic, Syria ranks deadliest place to be an aid worker in 2020, for fourth year in a row

19th August 2020: Syria tops the list of deadliest places to be an aid worker for the fourth year in a row according to an analysis done by CARE International on data from the Aid Worker Security Database. A devastating 74 aid workers have lost their lives since the beginning of this year, including 20 in Syria where war has been raging since 2011 and closely followed by 14 in South Sudan. The first six months of 2020 also see a 30 per cent increase in the number of fatalities recorded compared to this time last year.
Hiba*, a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Field Engineer with CARE’s partner IYD in northwest Syria says:

The continued humanitarian assistance is a major source of hope for hundreds of thousands of displaced people in northwest Syria. The continued targeting of us as humanitarian workers is like a final bullet for their hope and will to live. We, as humanitarian workers, are ready to face the pandemic but not the deliberate targeting of aid workers, which has resulted in the death of many colleagues in the line of their humanitarian duty. COVID-19 remains a disease that cannot distinguish between a humanitarian worker or other people.

Nirvana Shawky, CARE’s Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa, adds:

It is heart-breaking to see Syria once again top the list of most dangerous place to be an aid worker. Humanitarian needs, especially in the north-east of the country, have grown over the last few months, but continued attacks on aid workers, and closure of borders for vital aid to reach those suffering are making conditions more challenging than ever. Our local humanitarian partners in Syria are living the daily suffering and trials alongside those they help, and on top of that they are also being targeted for the work they do – this is unacceptable.

While Syria saw the highest number of fatalities, South Sudan has recorded the most attacks against aid workers so far in 2020. Mercy Laker, Deputy Country Director-Programmes for CARE South Sudan, says:

Delivering humanitarian assistance in South Sudan is a dangerous undertaking – and always has been. I can’t even begin to count the number of aid workers that have been victims of unfair harassment, illegal detentions, banditry and a range of other aggressions during their work. NGOs shouldn’t be pushed to choose between staff safety and reaching those whose very survival depends on aid interventions – the opportunity cost will be too huge.

In their new ‘Figures at a Glance 2020’ report, Humanitarian Outcomes – an independent research organisation that provides global data on aid-worker security – found that national aid workers continue to bear the brunt of the violence compared to their international colleagues. 97 per cent of all CARE staff in programming countries are local staff, working with incredible dedication to help their own communities and their wider compatriots.

Sally Austin, CARE International Head of Emergency Operations, notes:

The majority of humanitarians are local staff and true local heroes, similar to what COVID-19 has shown us across the western world, they are the rubbish collectors, lorry drivers, nurses, care workers and community services assistants. If anything, COVID-19 has highlighted and driven home the critical role played by local communities, civil society and NGOs, including women-led and women’s organisations, as frontline responders in their own countries.

2020 also sees the added dimension of increased threats to aid workers as a result of stigma around COVID-19. Misinformation and heightened tensions have also led to the disruption of humanitarian work in some contexts. In the Democratic Republic of Congo medical staff were accused of bringing COVID-19 to the community, and in other countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, protests in certain areas led to the destruction of testing facilities. Austin says:

Ensuring strong staff and partner safety protocols when engaging with communities and building programme acceptance with accurate and regular flows of public information is so crucial in the areas we work and is an important part of our COVID-19 responses. Fear can spread as rapidly as a pandemic itself, and particularly in the modern digital age. This is also true for affected communities. In some places, especially rural areas, stigma is a real concern for anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms and they may not seek testing or help as a result of fear, lack of access or lack of trust.


Humanitarian Index to date (1 Jan – 10 Aug 2020)

Table showing aid worker deaths in 2020

Notes to editors:

  • Analysis is based on the Humanitarian Outcomes aid worker security database where incidents are defined as deliberate acts of violence affecting aid workers, such as killings, kidnappings, and attacks that result in serious injury:
  • There have been a total of 109 attacks on aid workers with 203 victims so far in 2020 (numbers accurate as of 10 August 2020) across 18 countries including 74 aid workers killed compared to 57 this time last year. The vast majority – over 93% (189 cases) – of these incidents involved national staff members. South Sudan tops the list with 45 victims across 35 incidents in 2020, of which 14 ended in fatalities, while Syria currently has the highest number of aid worker fatalities of any country with half – 20 – of all incidents ending in fatalities, making it also the deadliest place to be an aid worker.

*name changed for protection and safety reasons

For media queries, please contact:

Lucy Beck Humanitarian Communications Coordinator, CARE International –

Monica Czwarno, Program Manager, Humanitarian Outcomes –

About CARE

Founded in 1945, CARE is a leading humanitarian organisation fighting global poverty and providing life-saving assistance in emergencies. In 100 countries around the world, CARE places special focus on working alongside poor girls and women because, equipped with the proper resources, they have the power to help lift whole families and entire communities out of poverty.

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