Ross Donaldson, a dashing young physician, could stay put in Los Angeles, where he’s a busy professor and trauma surgeon. Instead, he goes on high-risk missions to countries like Iraq and Sierra Leone.
“It’s definitely more dangerous than staying in the U.S. or Europe, but you don’t think about the dangers all the time,” says Donaldson, who was almost killed in Sierra Leone. “I don’t have a death wish, so I do weigh the pros and cons, but I think the dangers are harder on my family.” Donaldson recounts his experiences in the recent book “The Lassa Ward.”
The dangers are very real. In 2008 — the most recent year with available data — 122 aid workers were killed, making it the deadliest year on record for the do-gooders. Another 204 were either kidnapped or injured, according to a new report by the Overseas Development Institute, a London think tank.
“Aid work has never been safe because there are so many weapons in the afflicted areas,” explains Sarah Donaldson, an ODI researcher. “But now aid workers are being targeted for political reasons.”
Montreal-based security consultant Louis Lepage advises humanitarian organizations on safety precautions. “Aid workers are no longer protected by their organization’s logo or flag,” he said.
“Countries where the U.N. is active are particularly dangerous.”
“There are bombs going off all the time, but people here really appreciate what we do,” says Donaldson.
“In Los Angeles, that’s not always the case.”