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Published: September 15, 2020

Compounding Crises and the Role of a Security Risk Manager

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A security manager’s role is to enable aid workers to operate within uncertain and risky environments. As such, they are employed to analyse, anticipate, and react to contexts that are characterised by multiple threats. The insights they provide from a risk management perspective prove especially relevant in modern times when, more often than not, multiple crises occur at once, sometimes compounding and intensifying one another. Reflecting on the nature of such a phenomenon, this blog offers insights into the latest GISF podcast series, ‘Compounding Crises.’

A crisis can be defined in many ways:

  • ‘an emotionally significant event or radical change of status in a person’s life,’
  • ‘an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome,’ or
  • ‘a situation that has reached a critical phase.’ 

The above definitions point to various elements of a crisis. Firstly, that crises occur at different levels and can feed into one another. This can include personal, organisational or worldwide crises. Secondly, crises have a subjective component. They are experienced in different ways and their impacts can vary depending on our reactions to them. When a crisis is recognised as such, a sense of urgency and fear grows, with the possibility of ‘highly undesirable outcome’ lingering. Yet, by providing opportunities for change, crises can also lead to long term improvements.

When crises compound, the elements explained above are amplified, adding uncertainty and creating moments of critical change in others.

While this is not unique to the current times we are in, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is notable. At present, the pandemic adds to organisations’ and security managers’ already challenging list of threats to aid worker safety and security. In some ways, it is possible to argue that the security of aid workers is in a crisis.

According to Humanitarian Outcomes, ‘2019 surpassed all previous recorded years in terms of the number of major attacks committed against aid workers.’ In what may seem particularly unsettling, the Islamic State (ISIS) has launched a direct threat against humanitarian organisations, openly declaring aid workers targets.

At present, the future of many regions seems uncertain:

  • Over the last few years, The Sahel region of northern Africa has seen a rise in armed groups, refugees and internally displaced persons and climate change.
  • In Brazil, organised crime, environmental degradation and the spread of mis- and dis-information signify all of the ingredients for a situation of compounding crises.
  • Mali has sustained weeks of protests and recently saw a mutiny by soldiers. The political vacuum that this has created may open up space for the expansion of armed groups.
  • Highlighting the complexity surrounding compounding crises, the recent events in Lebanon raise many questions over which direction the country will eventually take. From a situation involving hundreds of thousands of refugees, with a tensed political landscape, protests, a global pandemic, the explosion in Beirut, heightened environmental concerns and health and socioeconomic difficulties make for an uncertain situation.

These examples, among others, all suggest that 2020 may be in for an even more challenging year, with the onset of several more compounding events underway. As 2020 proves to be a pivotal moment, seemingly leaving no corner of the world untouched, we must ask ourselves: what shifts and changes are proving to challenge humanitarian security risk management (SRM)? Are situations of compounding crises becoming the new normal?

GISF’s Compounding Crises podcast series unpacks just some of the issues impacting humanitarian SRM (from COVID-19 and beyond) and offers insights from security professionals. Conversations explore the interlinked risks that face the sector. In the first episode of the series, we explored partnerships in crisis. In recent years, limited access and growing risks – as well as a concerted push from the aid community – have meant that more and more international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) collaborate with local and national organisations to directly implement, and lead, humanitarian responses. As renewed attention is being brought to the localisation agenda, it is time to reconsider partnerships.

In episode two, we take on digital security in the humanitarian space. The digitisation of the humanitarian sphere can be seen as a crisis unto itself, bringing new risks, but also unforeseen opportunities. In this episode, we explored some of the digital risks that NGOs and their staff face in the modern world, and how and why security risk managers might begin to tackle them.

In the next few episodes, we will delve deeper into cross-cutting themes and look at the challenges at our doorsteps, including mis and dis-information, climate change and the politicisation of aid. We will also take a deeper look into the role of the security manager. What does it mean to manage multifaceted and ever-evolving crises while planning for those on the horizon? Is the role of security manager changing in these times and, if so, how?

The podcast series is a space for informal and nuanced dialogue, where security experts freely share their opinions, doubts and hopes on current events. In an environment characterised by uncertainty, creating spaces for honest conversation is vital.

We welcome your thoughts on the series evolution and invite you to share a topic or theme you might like to see covered. Get in touch on gisf-americas@gisf.ngo.


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