Humanitarian Security

Q&A with Lodovico Mariani:

Humanitarian security is a very important, yet, underestimated theme in the private security industry. There are basic misconceptions about this specific field due to the very peculiar place humanitarians hold on the global scale.

It’s not easy to understand and communicate swiftly the particular features that make humanitarian security such a controversial matter today but the aim of this article is to try to make some clearness in such a difficult field and why it is considered to be one of the “dark spots” of security management in the contemporary debate.

To enlighten the path we have interviewed a direct witness of the security management procedures in international cooperation for about 20 years. Lodovico Mariani is an expert in Personal Security Management for humanitarians and he accepted to release this interview to better explain the importance of this theme in the humanitarian sector.



  • Could you tell us something more about your professional background and your life with the NGOs?


Sure, first of all I have to say that I did not start working in the sector so young since I was already over 30 when I was sent to Afghanistan for my first deployment back in 2004. I began my career with the famous Italian NGO INTERSOS and proceeded with them for many years always in very “hot” territories such as Sri Lanka, South Sudan and Iraq.

During these last years of work I managed to understand the importance that security management came to hold in the international cooperation world and in the humanitarian aid sector in particular. It’s not something we normally talk so much about in the mainstream cooperation external outreach but it is something that deeply influences us and is gaining greater importance.

Apparently, we face a lack of general security awareness in this sector if we get compared to the military. The truth is that we are very different in our approach to personal security that starts from a very clear perspective: our aim is to be on the field, with the people, for the people. We shall not harm anybody but be present and close to the beneficiaries for aid and development reasons. Since we, as humanitarians and international cooperation experts, share this kind of view we also have to manage and perceive our own security in a very peculiar way. This path of managing security in a customized manner is fundamentally important in our world and I will be glad to say few words about it.


  • ” About the management approach you are talking about. Which are the main features that define security management in your sector and how would describe them?

I will answer this question by quoting the famous concept of the security triangle in personal security management. Imagine a triangle to be composed a by three key words defining adoptable security strategies: Acceptance, Protection and Deterrence.

The first two strategies can be applied by NGOs since they correspond to non-invasive and unarmed tactics on the field. The last one, deterrence is almost always avoided by NGOs and similar organizations since it would most likely mean damaging reputation on the field of intervention. Some NGOs in particular circumstances and with really tight procedure is foreseeing the usage of armed escorts, but it is really rare, and is seen as an ‘extrema ratio’. Regarding my direct experience even if I was deployed in Iraq in 2009 and 2010 I have personally never used armed escorts, implementing only the first two strategies of the triangle.



  • Is the concept of security culture and the importance of Duty of Care actually rising in European NGOs? Are we witnessing to a real change?


Yes, even if many would say the opposite, I can definitely state that in my experience I witnessed Italian NGOs as changing organizations. The theme of security management gained a top rank position in the HQs of major organizations that try to impact and access very difficult areas of the world. My direct experience with INTERSOS gave me a huge opportunity to understand that an external perception of a lack in the security management is mainly linked to a communication issue between parties.

“Duty of Care” is the key concept to understand and convey when we treat security problems on the field. One of the most difficult tasks in my job as trainer in this subject – security management for ngos – regards letting people understand why they should mind and work for the maintenance of their security during humanitarian intervention. As said above for sure Acceptance strategy is at the core of spirit of an NGO, but we need to be aware that nowadays this is not enough to protect us: even if we are delivering aid to a certain population, this does not automatically mean that we will be perceived in a positive way by all groups. This is why we need to implement specific Protection strategies to continue to ‘stay and deliver’. 





  • Security assessment, use of weapons, intelligence and protocols in humanitarian security are considered as important elements? Would you please spend few words on the topic?


Well, this kind of terminology does not really belong to our world but in some way we do have to manage all of these concepts when accessing a certain risk area. The direct use of weapons is forbidden to any aid worker but there are very peculiar occasions in which certain organizations decide to adopt a close protection team or such professionals to temporarily protect their humans resources and assets on the field.

Protocols and information are also very important and need to be adapted to each single specific case, field of interest and organization typology. Adaptability is a fundamental skill in my daily work since what I am considered to be an expert in, is adapting security management themes to a certain organization.