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Twenty Years On

Commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq on this World Humanitarian Day, guest contributor and RedR UK Associate Trainer Ian Woodmansey reflects upon the profound impact of this event on the humanitarian community.  

This blog was written by guest contributor Ian Woodmansey. Ian is a RedR UK Associate Trainer. You can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

We want to honour the memory of those humanitarian workers who lost their lives. The day also, however, serves as a stark reminder of the evolving security risks faced by aid workers. Since that event, security risk management within the humanitarian sector has never been the same.  

In this blog, we will delve into the changes that have taken place over the past two decades, the evolving security landscape, the efficacy of World Humanitarian Day, and the steps we can take to ensure the safety of those who selflessly serve in times of crisis. 


A Changing Security Landscape  

22 people lost their lives in the Canal Hotel bombing in Iraq in 2003. The bombing marked a turning point for the humanitarian community's approach to security risk management, underscoring the vulnerability of aid workers and the pressing need for a comprehensive security framework. 

The landscape of security threats faced by humanitarian organizations has evolved significantly since the Canal Hotel bombing. While traditional risks such as armed conflict, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks persist, new and complex challenges have emerged or grown. Terrorism, cyberattacks, political instability, and the rise of non-state actors have added layers of complexity to the security equation. 

Humanitarian organisations now grapple with the need to adapt. The blending of security and humanitarian action has become imperative, demanding a delicate balance between delivering aid and ensuring the safety of aid workers. 


How to Respond 

Over the past 20 years, there has been a notable shift from a reactive to a proactive approach in addressing security risks. Humanitarian organisations have become more vigilant in assessing potential threats, implementing risk reduction strategies, and providing specialised training for staff operating in high-risk environments. Advancements in technology have played a crucial role, from satellite imagery and geospatial analysis to communication tools and digital security measures. Collaborative efforts between governments, NGOs, and the private sector have further facilitated the sharing of information and resources, contributing to a more coordinated response to security challenges. First the European then the Global InterAgency Security Forum, as well as INSO, have played a central role in improving information sharing and coordination between agencies. 


The Place of World Humanitarian Day 

World Humanitarian Day serves as a global platform to recognise and celebrate the unwavering dedication of aid workers who risk their lives to alleviate human suffering. It sheds light on the risks they take and raises awareness about the challenges they face. While it may not directly impact the security measures put in place by organisations, it contributes significantly to acknowledging the importance of humanitarian work and fostering a sense of solidarity among people worldwide. 


Strengthening Safety Measures 


To enhance the safety of humanitarian staff and programs, there are several key areas that warrant attention: 

  • Training and Preparedness: Continuous training in security protocols, first aid, and conflict resolution is essential for aid workers operating in high-risk environments. Organisations should prioritise developing specialised training programs that cater to evolving security threats. 
  • Collaboration and Information Sharing: Humanitarian organisations must strengthen collaboration with governments, security agencies, and local communities to gather intelligence and exchange information about potential threats. 
  • Adaptive Security Strategies: Flexibility and adaptability are crucial. Organisations should constantly evaluate and adjust their security protocols based on changing conditions on the ground. 
  • Mental Health Support: Providing psychological support to aid workers exposed to trauma and high-stress environments is paramount. Mental health services should be readily accessible and destigmatised. 
  • Technological Innovation: Investing in cutting-edge technology, such as real-time tracking systems and encrypted communication tools, can enhance the safety of aid workers and the effectiveness of their operations. 

The Canal Hotel bombing serves as a sombre milestone. It galvanized the humanitarian community into action, leading to significant advancements in security risk management. 

While challenges persist and the nature of security threats continues to evolve, the unwavering commitment of aid workers remains a beacon of hope. World Humanitarian Day continues to shine a spotlight on their vital contributions. It’s a reminder that there is more to be done to ensure the safety of everyone caught up in humanitarian crisis. In fostering collaboration and embracing innovation, security can advance, rather than hinder work to support affected communities.