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Sociologist Larissa Fast Researches Humanitarian Security

Author: Joan Fallon

Larissa Fast for web

The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded Larissa Fast, assistant professor of sociology and conflict resolution at the University of Notre Dame, and her co-investigators from Johns Hopkins University and Save the Children, a grant for research that seeks to increase security for international relief and development agencies worldwide.

Targeted killings, kidnappings, and attacks on aid workers are on the rise, Fast says, leading to growing concerns about how to protect people who work for the Red Cross; the United Nations; organizations such as World Vision, Oxfam, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services; and thousands of smaller relief and development organizations worldwide.

Fast and her colleagues will travel to Sudan, Kenya, and Uganda early next year to field test the “acceptance” approach to security, one based on the idea that threats can be reduced if an agency’s staff develops good working relationships with local people. This approach is challenging, Fast says, because it involves actively building relationships not only with the community, but with the very people who might cause harm—rebels and insurgents, local armies, or local authorities.

Research results will be used to create recommendations for the international humanitarian community on the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the acceptance approach to security, Fast says.

In a related effort, Fast has received a faculty research grant from Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies to build a global database that includes more than 2,000 incidents of violence against aid workers that have interfered with the delivery of emergency and development aid around the world since the mid 1990s.

“Currently, only violent incidents that result in death, kidnapping, or severe injury are adequately documented,” Fast says. “But if I am a victim of a carjacking, or I get a death threat on my cell phone, there is no record of it and no way to track it. By expanding the database, we can begin to see patterns of violence and make strategic decisions about how to minimize risk and vulnerability.”

Fast is on the faculty of Notre Dame’s Department of Sociology and the Kroc Institute. Her research focuses on violence against aid workers, humanitarian politics, development and conflict evaluation, and peacebuilding. She has worked for several international organizations, primarily in North America and Africa, as a project manager, consultant, and trainer. The author of numerous chapters and articles and co-editor of a textbook on conflict resolution, she is completing a book manuscript titled “Aid in Danger.”

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