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Security Management in Humanitarian Organisations: Balancing Perspectives

Security management has become an increasingly important aspect of humanitarian work in recent years, especially in conflict zones where aid workers face increased risks.

As someone who has worked in the humanitarian field for several years, I have seen firsthand the growing overlap between security professionals and humanitarians. While this may seem like a positive development, it can also create tensions and conflicts over authority.

Humanitarian organisations must navigate a delicate balance between ensuring the safety of their staff and beneficiaries while also upholding their principles of impartiality and neutrality. However, the growing proximity between security professionals and humanitarians, coupled with the use of digital technologies, has created new challenges that require greater scrutiny and oversight.

There is not enough emphasis put on ensuring that all staff members understand their roles and responsibilities in relation to security. Oftentimes there are no clear boundaries between security and non-security responsibilities, which leads to constant debate and back and forth about field trips, delayed implementation and, in some cases, even unjustified closure of bases and programs.

In the field, organisations should ensure clear boundaries between security and non-security responsibilities to avoid clashes over authority. This is particularly important given the increasing number of security incidents targeting aid workers in recent years. While taking necessary precautions to protect staff and beneficiaries is essential, we must also ensure that we do not compromise our humanitarian principles.

The Copenhagen School of Security Studies and securitisation theory, a framework for understanding how issues become framed as security concerns and how this framing can lead to the use of exceptional measures to address them. Just as securitisation involves the states framing a particular issue as a security threat, I have seen this on a micro level within our humanitarian sector, where programmatic elements have been declared a security concern - without particular justification. Thus the security department has changed an entire program's intervention strategy, limiting the reach and impact of the organisation. Just like on the state level, the unjustified use of securitisation can lead to significant consequences. This is why donors and policymakers should be aware of the tensions between security managers and humanitarians in the field and consider the long-term consequences of increasing security budgets for humanitarian operations. The more tension in a mission's security management, the more likely it is for an incident to occur, which is oftentimes counterbalanced by more security personnel. Perhaps mistakenly.

Another challenge is the potential for sensitive information to circulate beyond humanitarian organisations. The use of digital technologies, while beneficial in many ways, has also increased the risk of data breaches and other security incidents. We must ensure that the information we collect and share remains secure and that we are transparent about how we collect and use it.

Ultimately, the goal of humanitarian organisations is to provide assistance to those in need, regardless of their political affiliations or beliefs. To do so, we must remain committed to the principles of impartiality and neutrality while also taking necessary precautions to ensure the safety of our staff and beneficiaries. This requires a delicate balance that must be continually reassessed and adapted as circumstances change.

One way to achieve this balance is by fostering a culture of collaboration between security and humanitarian professionals. By working together, we can ensure that security measures are tailored to the situation's specific needs rather than being imposed top-down. This collaborative approach can also help to build trust between security personnel and programme staff, which is crucial for effective communication and decision-making in high-pressure situations.

Another way to ensure that security measures do not compromise humanitarian principles is to involve local communities in decision-making. Local communities are often the first to be affected by security incidents. They provide valuable insight into how to address them in a way that is effective and respectful of local customs and traditions. Too often, we witness the complete dismissal of information shared by local staff because "we know better".

In conclusion, the unclear boundaries between security and non-security responsibilities is a significant challenge for humanitarian organisations. Clear protocols and lines of communication must be established to ensure that all staff members understand their roles and responsibilities. We must maintain a delicate balance between security concerns and the principles of impartiality and neutrality and be transparent about collecting and using sensitive information. By fostering a culture of collaboration and involving local communities in decision-making, we can ensure that our security measures are tailored to the situation's specific needs and do not compromise our humanitarian principles.

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