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Aid workers in the line of fire as international conflicts spare no one

UNITED NATIONS--Aid workers rushing to save lives worldwide are increasingly becoming targets for attack, in a worrying development for NGOs trying to ease suffering in hostile war zones.

From South Sudan, where roaming militias killed six aid workers this month — three of them in an ambush — to Gaza, where 11 U.N. staff were killed in attacks on U.N.-run shelters, relief workers are living dangerously.

Over the past decade, the number of aid workers killed in attacks has tripled, reaching over 100 deaths per year, U.N. officials say.

Afghanistan, South Sudan and Syria now rank as the most dangerous countries for humanitarian staff.

“Fifteen years ago, the greatest risk to the lives of aid workers were road traffic accidents. That is no longer the case. Violent incidents claim the lives of more aid workers than anything else,” said Bob Kitchen, from the International Rescue Committee.

With operations in more than 40 countries, the IRC has lost 12 staff over the past six years: five were executed by the Taliban in 2011 and two were killed in April in a horrific attack on the U.N. base in Bor, South Sudan.

Kitchen, who heads the IRC's emergency response team, attributes the increase to the changing nature of warfare, with more civilians being displaced internally, either unable or unwilling to flee the country.

“We are increasingly seeing the need for aid organizations to go into environments of war,” he said.

'Deficit of humanity'

Armed groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq consider aid workers a legitimate target, either as a quick way to earn money or to punish those who help their enemies.

“More and more, we're seeing parties to conflicts around the world ignore the rules of war to achieve a political end,” said John Ging, head of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

“I believe unfortunately that we are seeing more attacks on humanitarian workers as part of a growing deficit of humanity in conflict and in global politics.”

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