News / Africa

Past Conflict Still Affects Aid Workers

Fighters loyal to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) pose with their rifles inside the forest near River Mbou in the Central African Republic (CAR) in this handout picture dated April 4, 2012.
Fighters loyal to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) pose with their rifles inside the forest near River Mbou in the Central African Republic (CAR) in this handout picture dated April 4, 2012.

Multimedia

Audio
Joe DeCapua
The many years of conflict in northern Uganda between government forces and the Lord’s Resistance Army took a heavy toll on the civilian population. The LRA carried out killings, rapes, looting, mutilations and abductions. But new research shows that Ugandan humanitarian workers were also deeply affected by the chronic and traumatic stress during those years.


The Lord’s Resistance Army began its attacks in the late 1980s. It’s estimated that by 2006, tens of thousands of civilians had been killed, tens of thousands of children abducted and nearly two million people displaced. Those living in the many camps in the north often had few basic services and were ravaged by disease.

The government and the LRA signed a truce in 2006, which led to on-again, off-again peace talks and internal power struggles within the rebel group, as well as multi-national military offensives. In the end the rebels left Uganda.

However, for years, small bands of the rebels have terrorized parts of the DRC, Central African Republic and South Sudan. But while the LRA may be gone from northern Uganda, research shows the effects of the conflict remain very much present among aid workers.

Researchers focused on the Gulu area, which was at the heart of the conflict. The study chose 21 agencies and 376 Ugandans.

Professor Alastair Ager said that studies had been done on the effects of conflict on expatriate workers. But that was a relatively small number compared to native-born aid workers.

“This was only telling part of the story and that the experience of those who lived and worked in the country of their birth was an important part of the story. So we did studies in northern Uganda, but we have also done them in Jordan, particularly working with the Iraqi refugee crisis, and also people working in Sri Lanka,” he said.

Ager is a professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

He said, “Broadly we saw this common pattern of really quite significant levels of mental health symptoms associated with people who are really finding it pretty tough. And in a sense that’s not surprising. These are difficult situations and it’s difficult work. But it was one of the first times to really document the mental health and burnout issues that many people in this key sector are facing.”

These include high levels of depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. They’ve built up over time due to a gradual erosion of the workers’ resilience to conflict conditions. And the symptoms were worse in the Ugandan-born workers than in the ex-pats.

“Certain organizations seemed to be doing a better job in helping their staff cope with difficult situations than others. A major source of stress was the differences between the experience of expatriate workers and national staff – the inequities, if you like, in conditions of service, in the treatment and the privileges available to people who have an expatriate status or a national status. And that was an awkward thing to talk about, but clearly was a major source of contention in terms of people feeling that they’re getting the short end of the stick in the terms of the way that they’re dealt with and the way that facilities are made available to them,” he said.

Aid workers with U.N. organizations reported “the fewest overall symptoms.” However, Ager said Ugandans employed by international NGOs “reported significantly more signs of depression.”

“The bigger organization has resources and capacities to be able to deploy staff, give appropriate leave, give appropriate management and so on. So, if you’re a small organization, you might feel, well, ok, we just can’t do the sort of things that those bigger agencies can do. One of the key predictors of difficulty was a lack of team cohesion – a sense of the work group that you’re working with being one where there’s conflict and difficulty. And that’s an area clearly where any organization can put some investment into,” he said.

The study says women were found to be much more vulnerable to mental health issues. But it’s not clear whether men were being completely forthcoming in the survey about how they felt.

The study recommends that aid workers find ways to ensure they have rest and recreation and somehow disconnect from the conflict situation for a time. However, Professor Ager says the bulk of the recommendations are aimed at organizations.

“To get the best out of your staff, there’s real value in some fairly simple and straightforward investment in good management practice in terms of people having clear job descriptions in terms of knowing what they’re doing. Regular form of feedback so that people can be encouraged that they’re being successful and if they are finding things difficult. And generally an acknowledgment that teams can get tense with each other. There can be problems and issues there. And these very practical management things promise significant impact in terms of the well-being of workers,” he said.

The recommendations also include providing better access to the phone or Internet for personal communications and discouraging “excessive hours at work.” The study appears in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

You May Like

Video Protests Continue in Ferguson, Spread to Other US Cities

Missouri officials say deployment of more than 2,000 National Guard soldiers helps curb second night of rampant arson and looting in Midwestern town More

Video Ebola, Crackdown on Illegals Hit Business in Guangzhou

Chinese city has largest community of Africans in Asia More

Video Legendary Lebanese Actress, Singer Sabah Dies at 87

Music and film diva, affectionately called 'Sabbouha' by millions of her fans, performed at Carnegie Hall in New York, Royal Albert Hall in London, Olympia in Paris, Sydney Opera House in Sydney More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Changei
X
November 24, 2014 10:09 PM
Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.
Video

Video Tensions Build on Korean Peninsula Amid Military Drills

It has been another tense week on the Korean peninsula as Pyongyang threatened to again test nuclear weapons while the U.S. and South Korean forces held joint military exercises in a show of force. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from the Kunsan Air Base in South Korea.
Video

Video Mama Sarah Obama Honored at UN Women’s Entrepreneurship Day

President Barack Obama's step-grandmother is in the United States to raise money to build a $12 million school and hospital center in Kogelo, Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, Barack Obama, Sr. She was honored for her decades of work to aid poor Kenyans at a Women's Entrepreneurship Day at the United Nations.
Video

Video Ebola Economic Toll Stirs W. Africa Food Security Concerns

The World Bank said Wednesday that it expects the economic impact of the Ebola outbreak on the sub-Saharan economy to cost somewhere betweenf $3 billion to $4 billion - well below a previously-outlined worst-case scenario of $32 billion. Some economists, however, paint a gloomier picture - warning that the disruption to regional markets and trading is considerable. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Chaos, Abuse Defy Solution in Libya

The political and security crisis in Libya is deepening, with competing governments and, according to Amnesty International, widespread human rights violations committed with impunity. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London.
Video

Video US Hosts Record 866,000 Foreign Students

Close to 900,000 international students are studying at American universities and colleges, more than ever before. About half of them come from Asia, mostly China. The United States hosts more foreign students than any other country in the world, and its foreign student population is steadily growing. Zlatica Hoke reports.

All About America

AppleAndroid