Sunday, January 30, 2011

Development as Distraction: Following the Security Rules

Security isn’t a joke in the international aid sector. Regardless of the belief that we transcend local politics, and as a rule never carry weapons, aid workers (both foreign and national) are still targeted and killed. When it happens, it gets big press coverage, as the narrative makes for good copy: person with good intentions who wanted nothing more than to help country A, ends up being killed by citizens of country A (also it reinforces the media narrative that development is doomed to failure).

Right now I'm in Pakistan, a country that faces multiple threats like other developing countries which are at war, insurgency, fighting rebels or work with a particular loony organisation and so I take the rules seriously: don't eat in certain places, don't go out alone after dark etc. But in Bangladesh, India and Nepal I feel pretty safe, though I still have to go through the security process which makes the briefings somewhat amusing. In my experience, the office security guy is usually ex-military and being South Asian will have worked with the British Army at some point in his previous career, so that he speak down to me like a subordinate in his Queen's English. Of course, the biggest challenge is for him to come up with a range of security threats to justify his full-time employment.

For example, in Bangladesh, the biggest threat apparently is riding on motorbikes which is a nightmare for organising a social life in Dhaka. My security rules permit to ride a scooter, whereas my friend’s do not. After dinner we want to visit the bar, but I can’t give him a ride (he can’t take a rickshaw either for security reasons) and so we end up going home. In Nepal where I just spent the past ten days, the main security threat, apart from an earthquake which noone is sure is coming, are “fatal mauling by leopards, sometimes tigers and bears and also encounters with elephants.” Seriously, someone is paid full time to monitor the leopard mauling situation. But I can imagine the story in the British press:

A UK aid worker was mauled to death by a leopard in Nepal yesterday, whist facilitating a community workshop on handwashing. Participants reported that during the "after-lunch" enegiser session (the "massage-circle" game), the predator jumped through the window. “He was so brave, as he tried to wrestle the wildcat himself to protect the other participants” reported a local school teacher, “I would have done the same, as when you’re facilitating a workshop it is like sailing a ship, if necessary you have to go down with it.” Participants were seen to be very upset, and one was reported to have said “it was a shame that he was attacked before the coffee break, I was really looking forward to the samosas that they provide. In fact that is the only reason I come to these NGO things.” 

Aid workers beware!

1 comment:

  1. Had I known of the leopard mauling situation, I may have treated the trek a little differently (lighter pack, smear Colleen's clothes with bacon grease etc.)...

    How are things? Is the wedding planning going ok? You must have mosat of it worked out by now right?

    Love the blogs, although I don't have as much time as I woulkd like to read them all. I especially loved thew one about slouching. I laughed out loud a t that one. I'm with you, fight the power.

    All my best to Jess, and good luck with the wedding,

    Michael (and Colleen)