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Aid workers on the line

Aid workers have come under increasing fire while providing life-saving assistance. But the danger is unlikely to dissuade these selfless medical personnel.

Deliberate attacks on medical personnel working in conflict zones have increased alarmingly in recent months, the International Committee of the Red Cross said this week. The agency counted more than 600 attacks in 16 countries in the 30 months to last December.

No organisation tallies comparable numbers for non-medical aid workers from all the non-governmental organisations that work so courageously to feed the hungry and house the homeless in the world's areas of war or disaster. But there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that these people, many of whom are volunteers of rare selflessness and determination, are also coming under increasing fire.

It's a shame. From the Red Cross and Red Crescent to the smallest newest charity, organisations work tirelessly to raise funds, find volunteers, hire staff, train those going into troubled regions, identify suppliers, overcome intimidating logistical challenges, cope with bribery and incompetence - all to get workers into the field where they often, heartbreakingly, are threatened precisely because they are making a difference. One only needs to see the images coming out of Somalia to recognise the courage of these aid workers, and how great the need is.

Typically, the Red Cross report focused largely on the patients who die because armed conflict delays treatment, rather than on their own staff members who are killed or endangered. These people deserve better.

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