By Joseph D'Urso
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The deaths of three Red Cross and Red Crescent workers in unrelated attacks in Mali, Yemen and Syria within hours of each other this week were condemned as "profoundly shocking and unacceptable" by the organization's head on Tuesday.
Elhadj As Sy, secretary general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said his staff and volunteers "are needed today more than ever before, and they must be protected by all".
Malian staff member Hamadoun Daou was attacked while driving an aid truck from Gao in the east of the country to Niamey, the capital of Niger, where he was due to collect medical equipment.
Omar Ali Hassam, a Red Crescent volunteer in Yemen, was shot dead in the southern province of A Dhalea. The unnamed third victim, a volunteer for the Syrian branch of the Palestine Red Crescent, was shot dead in a refugee camp near Damascus.
"All parties to conflict must abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and may not attack humanitarian personnel, hospitals or ambulances," said Yves Daccord, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent groups, comprising 189 national societies, has almost 17 million active volunteers providing humanitarian assistance worldwide.
Medicins Sans Frontieres brings together thousands of medical staff to work on projects in 70 countries.
Spokeswoman Teresa Sancristoval, who is helping coordinate a response to the crisis in Yemen, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that protecting aid workers is a top concern. "We try to do our best, but it's not always enough".
RECORD AID WORKER DEATHS
Humanitarian Outcomes, a policy group, monitors the number of aid workers killed each year. In 2013, the last year for which full figures are available, there were a record 155 deaths, up from 70 in 2012, with 251 attacks on aid workers.
Deteriorating security in Afghanistan, Syria, the Central African Republic and South Sudan explained this increase, spokeswoman Abby Stoddard told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
But she expected the number of deaths to be lower in 2014, with aid workers deterred from going to countries like Somalia due to the heightened risks. "You have fewer casualties there because there are fewer humanitarian workers there," she said.
Since the Syrian war began in 2011, a total of 48 Red Cross volunteers have been killed, said spokesman Benoit Carpentier. It was not known how many aid workers in total have died in the conflict, which has claimed over 200,000 lives.
The dangers faced by aid workers in Syria were highlighted last summer when Britons David Haines and Alan Henning, and U.S. citizen Peter Kassig were beheaded by their Islamic State captors, with videos of the executions released online.
Hospitals and aid workers have also been targeted in South Sudan in recent months, and the Red Cross has reported that its workers in Guinea have been attacked while trying to combat the deadly Ebola virus.
Carpentier said procedures are in place to minimize the danger faced by aid workers. "(But) there is no risk zero," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
(Reporting By Joseph D'Urso; Editing by Tim Pearce)