Understanding and then insuring charity risks
Charities have a moral and legal duty to ensure that everybody who works for them is safe in the field. Part of that duty is exercised through sensible precautions and good risk management. The other part is through protecting them with appropriate insurance cover. In a poll, 67% of charitable organisations felt that insurers did not understand the risk issues faced by the charity sector and 75% believed that costs could be cut if risk issues were successfully communicated.
Let me give you an example of a most recent conflict and how having appropriate insurance cover can make all the difference to foreign nationals caught up in the middle, and how good insurance brokers with experience of the charity sector understand the risks charities are being faced with.
The political history of modern Sudan has been dominated by conflict between the Islamic north and the predominantly Christian, African south. Following a referendum in 2011, South Sudan became an independent state. A number of issues were left unresolved upon southern independence including border demarcation, citizenship, ethnic rights and oil exports. Violent clashes quickly escalated between north and south which led to a humanitarian crisis.
Many charitable organisations are working in both Sudan and South Sudan with the aim of helping the Sudanese people, whose lives have been badly affected by the consequences of decades of conflict, including the prevalence of disease.
There was a charity whose aim is to reduce the suffering caused by tropical diseases in some of the poorest communities around the world. Their operations take them where help is needed, including South Sudan.
Comprehensive personal accident and travel insurance cover was arranged for all their overseas staff and expatriates, including emergency evacuation expenses and access to advice from a specialist security company which monitors events around the world 24 hours a day.
In addition, international private medical cover was put in place to give staff access to NHS style medical treatment around the world.
When violence flared again in South Sudan in December 2013 the charity were thus ready to react quickly to secure the safety of their staff.
How the insurance policy responded
In mid December 2013 the situation in South Sudan deteriorated. There had been a coup attempt on the night of 15 December by the opposition in Juba, focused on the army barracks and the president’s compound. Juba was under military curfew and soldiers were patrolling the streets. Check points were set up and anyone leaving their home or compound was threatened with arrest. The airport and the land borders were already closed.
While foreign nationals might not be directly targeted in the fighting, they would be exposed to the risk of incidental violence.
The charity contracted their insurance broker in the UK and were referred them to a specialist security company to which their insurance gave them access. An initial call from the charity to the security company was received on 17 December, stating that they had nine staff in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and two in Arwil, north of the country, all seeking advice on the developing situation.
Given the spread of locations, the priority for the security company was to make sure everyone was in a safe location and the information was reported back to the charity's headquarters. The security advisers continued to feed information in both directions while experts made plans for a possible evacuation.
Within 48 hours the experts had secured an aircraft at Juba airfield to transport the charity’s staff to Kampala in nearby Uganda. The UK and US embassies were urging the South Sudan president to reopen the airport as soon as possible to let the trapped foreign nationals leave. After three nights of fighting the airport reopened on 18 December. Following the reopening, all parties agreed that foreign nationals should be evacuated whilst the airport remained open. The advisors then subsequently coordinated the full evacuation of the staff out of South Sudan.
This flight was amongst the first to leave Juba, but the charity's staff in the north of the country were diverted to Wau because an aircraft had crashed on the runway in Juba. The advisors therefore organised an alternative aircraft for the next day, to take them on to Kampala and onward commercial flights to home destinations.
This is just one example of a rapid deteriorating political situation and a vivid example of how a prompt reaction and speedy communication can help solve even the most complex situation.
The costs of the evacuation were all covered by the insurer and are set to exceed £20,000.
Why insurance is important
Insurance plays an important part in transferring the risk for any charity, and forms part of any comprehensive risk identification, treatment and management programme.
People are sent to potentially dangerous locations to make a difference on behalf of people in need, and the risk to them of injury, illness and disease needs to be identified and managed.
Whilst evacuation cover is available from many insurers, the policy detail and aptitude of their security advisers will vary. Ensuring that the right cover was in place to reflect travel to "high risk" locations, as well as being on hand to help when the worst happened, made the difference in this case.
The insurance policy put together by the broker ensured the safety of the charity’s staff when the political situation deteriorated. If this cover was not in place, or it was not adequate, then they would have been on their own in arranging the evacuation.
In a state of chaos, one can only imagine how long it might have taken to arrange the evacuation and risk missing the window of opportunity when the airport was opened.
Not to mention the costs involved in such an operation!