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Opinion: Securing the safety of NGO workers in an increasingly volatile world

Hands joining together in a circle

Diversity Travel's operations manager, Dan Lloyd, discusses the challenges of organising NGO travel in an increasingly risky global landscape

For those who lived through the travel challenges posed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and the years that followed, it is difficult to come to terms with the idea that the world may have become an even more volatile place now than it was then.

Indeed, recent times have seen political struggles emerge in conflicted states such as Yemen and Syria and the unprecedented North African refugee crisis born out of such situations; the rise of turbulent populist movements throughout Southern and Central Europe with creeping influence elsewhere and the continuing threat posed by organised global terrorism.

Equally concerning is that this list is far from exhaustive. While the severity of existential threat posed by each of these challenges varies, one thing they almost all have in common is that they – or rather their consequences – require international monitoring and, in some cases, humanitarian responses.

The role of TMCs
To those non-governmental organisations and individuals who strive to help those caught up in chaos and collateral damage, TMCs with the right capabilities owe their expertise to enable such courageous work and ensure that NGOs have all the support they both deserve and require to effectively carry out their work with minimal interruption, overheads and risk.

We must embrace a more human approach to our work. This means listening, learning and reacting to those operating in the most challenging of circumstances; deferring to their knowledge of such environments to ensure that we’re able to provide a constant lifeline when they need it most. In such life-threatening scenarios you can’t automate dialogue with clients.  Only instant access to TMC professionals with a wealth of knowledge, experience and strategic thinking and expertise will suffice.

The sector should be actively developing solutions to the challenges associated with such travel to help to foster NGO’s trust in the industry. Of course, offering this sort of travel to NGOs will be accompanied with considerable uncertainty, but for those worried about such additional liabilities, there are ways in which we can minimise and manage the associated risks.

Utilising tools
Lifelines are available to help pre-empt the potentially tricky situations which can arise when operating in volatile regions. Supporting tools proven to benefit NGO projects can provide a constant in an otherwise very changeable field of operations. For example, though it may seem invasive to some, a smartphone tracking platform can offer peace of mind to clients or managers wondering how they might deal with a scenario in which they lose contact or keep track of their staff on the ground. In high-risk areas where maintaining radio silence is a necessity, such location information can prove vital in ensuring that clients’ people are kept well out of harm’s way.

Without being invasive, employees’ GPS location services on their smartphone can be applied in real-time to keep tabs on the brave people on the ground. Such apps can be useful for disseminating alerts to warn workers in dangerous areas of any potential threats to their wellbeing. In doing so clients can rest assured that their staff on the ground are out of harm’s way in good time.

In enabling NGOs and charities to do this often risk-laden work in the safest way possible, our industry can be a part of a wider drive to make the world a better place for communities on the other side of the globe, our planet’s ecosystem and future generations. Applying our expertise to such areas of work ensures that we can be part of a community dedicated to achieving positive social impacts that extend beyond our borders.

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