Many of the healthcare issues relating to humanitarian aid are similar to volunteering, although the risks will often relate to the type of crisis they are attending.

Volunteers working in West Africa in an Ebola care centre

Wars, civil unrest, infectious disease epidemics, droughts, famine, earthquakes and tsunamis all can lead to humanitarian disasters.

  • Aid workers may go out at short notice, Many are 'regulars' and have had previous experience of these, often very stressful, situations.

  • They normally volunteer through experienced organisations such as The Red Cross, Save the Children Oxfam or Medecins-sans-Frontieres .

  • Sometimes individuals make their rapid response own arrangements but this risks being ill-prepared for what they will encounter and they end up 'getting in the way' or needing aid themselves.

Volunteer selection

Careful selection of people carrying out this type of work is essential. Organisations familiar with the problems associated with humanitarian aid work and extended overseas placements usually have rigorous procedures to select suitable candidates. Good preparation can help avoid problems for the aid worker, stress for their colleagues and also avoid putting extra pressure on the host country's emergency services which are likely to be already stretched to capacity.

  • This advance planning means that problems can often be anticipated and extra support provided, either before the aid workers departure or when the worker arrives at their posting. Problems and/or disappointments can arise when preparations are inadequate or not carried out responsibly.

  • It must be part of the recruitment process to ensure that volunteers have no history record of physical, sexual or child abuse.


It can be complicated and costly to send volunteers abroad at short notice into crises such as the poorly anticipated major Ebola haemorrhagic fever outbreak in West Africa in 2014

  • Travel insurance, including the need for repatriation, as with all forms of overseas travel, is essential for volunteers and the sending organisation rarely provides this.