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Observations

Observations

Opinion, arguments & analyses from the editors of Scientific American

Getting Killed for Saving Lives

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Three suicide bombers stormed the office of the International Red Cross in Jalabad, Afghanistan earlier today and at least one guard has been killed. No one has so far claimed responsibility, but al-Qaeda has targeted the group in the past whereas the Taliban has not, according to the Wall Street Journal. The incident follows an attack by the Taliban last Friday on the Kabul headquarters of the International Organization for Migration.

Meanwhile, in neighboring Pakistan, the targeted shooting of two more polio vaccine workers in Pakistan on Tuesday is the latest in a shameful string of attacks carried out against these mostly female health workers by Muslim extremists over the past six months. A 19-year old woman was killed immediately and her co-worker was taken to the hospital with grave injuries.

The apparent aim of the Pakistani attacks is to help scuttle the polio eradication campaign (which is viewed as helping western countries the most)--and at the same time, not coincidentally, intimidate women against trying to fashion productive lives outside the household. The U.S. decision to mount a sham vaccination campaign as part of its plot to find and kill Osama bin Laden also helped paint a big red bullseye on polio workers' backs.

But the attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan are also part of a decade-long trend of extremists targeting humanitarian workers (including many health care workers), whether citizens of other countries or local employees.

Indeed, attacks against humanitarian workers in Afghanistan in the first four months of 2013 are ahead of last year's pace and could surpass the deadly peaks attained just a couple years ago.

I pulled some numbers from the Aid Worker Security Database for 2002-through-April-2013 and generated the following graph in Excel to demonstrate the point. According to AWSD's figures, Afghanistan and Pakistan are the two most dangerous countries in the world so far this year for humanitarian and health workers, followed by Nigeria and Somalia.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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