Working in the field

According to recent statistics and projections the number, as well as the severity, of natural disasters across the world is increasing.

The IFRC, through its member National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, is working in all these natural disasters, usually in areas with complex political and social circumstances that can change rapidly and can affect the working and living conditions of our staff and volunteers.

Before applying for a position in the field with the IFRC, it is important to know what the reality of everyday life looks like for a field worker.


Ensuring the safety and well-being of all Red Cross Red Crescent personnel is at all times of the highest priority for IFRC. As security risks are generally higher for those based in the field, whether they are IFRC-employed delegates, staff-on-loan, local staff , volunteers working with the IFRC, visitors, consultants or family members accompanying delegates, extra care is taken for them.

Although the degree of risk varies from country to country, it is important to realise that security incidents can occur in all operational areas. In order to fulfil their humanitarian mission, Red Cross Red Crescent personnel must therefore always obey basic security rules and act appropriately in any given situation.

Security regulations are established and specific to every Country Delegation and the area in which it is operating, and are applicable to all delegates, local staff, dependants and visitors. This is also true for emergency contingency plans and procedures such as medical evacuations and relocation plans. 

Understanding the different types of security situations you may face in the field and how to behave in order to minimize risks to your safety and that of your fellow colleagues is vital for your safety in the field. A number of training courses and publications are available to IFRC personnel, which provide advice and guidance, like Stay safe: The IFRC’s guide to a safer mission, together with the accompanying publication, Stay safe: The IFRC’s guide for security managers, and two e-learning courses.

Safety in the field depends to a large extent on the personal attributes of individuals, particularly solidarity with team members and correct behaviour. Correct, polite, impartial and neutral behaviour by delegates and staff is the golden rule.

Staff are representing the International Red Cross or Red Crescent Movement 24 hours a day and seven days a week, so your behaviour always reflects the Red Cross Movement as a whole and may affect the security of your colleagues. 

Living and working conditions

Living and working conditions in the field vary from one location to another. International aid and emergency response workers may have to work without many of the comforts, support networks and basic infrastructure to which they are accustomed in their home country. Some of our operations may be located in remote and extremely uninhabitable areas.

For example, you may have to live in extreme cold or heat; in a very humid environment, with extreme amounts of rainfall; in a desert climate without air conditioning or even a fan, with large numbers of insects, without electricity for months on end. 

In addition security restrictions may limit where you can go, what you can do and when you can do it.


Both excellent physical health and first class mental health are essential, especially for the field worker. Humanitarian workers are exposed to rough natural environments but also to complex political and social environments all of which challenge the coping mechanisms of the individual.

Therefore IFRC delegates need to be well prepared, both physically and mentally, before being allowed to undertake a mission. Candidates must undergo a medical clearance process prior to the acceptance of their contract and their departure. Once in the field, the IFRC staff can easily contract diseases that he or she would never have been exposed to in his home country. Fortunately for some of these diseases, preventative measures can be taken. For example, hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and malaria are common diseases which can be easily prevented by getting either the right immunization or prophylactic medication.


Working for a humanitarian organization like the IFRC can be a fulfilling experience, but it can sometimes also be a stressful one. Cumulative stress, burn-out and traumatic experiences are health risks for humanitarian workers. Staff suffering from the effects of stress are likely to be less efficient and effective in carrying out their assigned tasks in serving the most vulnerable people. They become a health risk and sometimes even a security risk to their environment and to themselves.

Field workers must be able to cope in difficult and unpredictable environments. In addition to such external stress factors, there are also internal ones such as tensions among staff, health problems, being far away from family and friends, the feeling of insecurity, a heavy workload, lack of space and privacy, lack of leisure, lack of a normal social and cultural life, primitive living conditions or even just unfamiliarity with the local food.

The psychological support programme for IFRC staff, which has been operational since 1993, emphasizes the importance of efficient stress management and staff support as a means to enhance staff well-being, resilience and  effectiveness.

Family and private life

International assignments affect both the employees and their families, whether they accompany them or remain at home. Such an assignment means being away from friends and family for extended periods of time, in some cases with very little contact. This can in itself be a source of distress. Therefore all parties involved should feel positive and excited at the prospect of undertaking the international assignment. Once the positive decision is made, it becomes crucial to be prepared realistically for living and working in a foreign country.

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Meet our Staff

  • Chiran Livera
    Operations Manager, IFRC Sahel Regional Representation
  • Narendra Singh
    Water and sanitation delegate, Myanmar 
  • Rika Ueno
    Delegate, organizational development and volunteering unit, Asia Pacific zone