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Risk and insurance for Canadian charities abroad, part 2

publication date: Apr 11, 2012
 | 
author/source: Kenneth A. Hall
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Medical risk

A wide variety of health concerns should be addressed when contemplating short-term or long-term travel or residency outside Canada. These include - Kenneth Hall photo

1) Infectious diseases Check with Health Canada and Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada (DFAIT) to find out about infectious or tropical diseases such as malaria and hepatitis C, and other health concerns that may require inoculations and other procedures prior to departure.

2) Health screening Carefully screen staff candidates, work teams and other short-term volunteers for pre-existing medical conditions and food and medical allergies. You don't want to risk life-threatening medical emergencies in locations with limited health care. Your application process should ask those questions and also require the applicant's informed consent with respect to the dangers of travel to the proposed destination, along with a release of interest and waiver of legal liability against the organization and its directors and representatives.

In addition to the worldwide liability protection that should be carried by organizations operating outside Canada (see part 1), it is also important to arrange individual travel insurance for all participants traveling abroad in sponsored activities. Your travelers' out-of-country (and out-of-province) medical expenses are often not covered, or are severely limited, by provincial health insurance plans.

Traumatic injuries, heart attacks and strokes can involve significant uninsured medical, emergency evacuation and repatriation costs. They can place a heavy financial strain on the families of injured persons and the survivors of deceased family members.  This burden can also force those affected to take legal action against the organization and its leaders to avoid bankruptcy or financial hardship by recovering these costs through civil damage awards or settlements.

To avoid this situation, insist on mandatory travel insurance for all representatives and participants in your sponsored out-of-country operations. Have participants give proof of their own individual coverage, or coordinate protection centrally through the same travel insurer for ease of administration and to ensure that coverage is adequate and equal for all participants. Travel coverage is available through Blue Cross, TIC and many other insurers who specialize in out-of-country protection.

Security risk

It is unfortunate but true that increasing risks are associated with relief, development and short-term missions work in many parts of the world. At one time, personal security was only a concern for senior ranking political figures and the executives of multinational corporations. However, in the past decade even the directors and aid workers of nonprofit organizations (NPOs) have been targeted by insurgency groups and gangs for political purposes or monetary gain through ransom demands.

Although much of the world's attention is focused on obvious trouble spots such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the threat of kidnap, ransom and extortion is prevalent throughout much of Africa and parts of Latin America. And this risk is found in both remote, rural areas and in the highly urbanized areas of first- and second-world countries. According to the Clayton Report, produced by one of the leading reporting organizations for personal risk, large cities such as Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Johannesburg and Moscow are major trouble spots for kidnapping.

Insurance protection is available through a handful of specialty companies in the United States and Canada for kidnap, ransom, hijack, wrongful detention, extortion, consultant costs and related expenses. Premiums are based on the limit of coverage desired for ransom indemnity, the number of persons to be insured and the location of operations.

Nonprofits and charities typically have two concerns about purchasing Kidnap and Ransom (K & R) Insurance:

1) A religious and philosophical objection to paying ransom in certain situations. This concern can often be alleviated by understanding that the organization does not have to pay a ransom if it chooses not to. A consultant will respond to an incident and provide experienced advice to the client. The client makes the final decision and can choose to accept or not accept the advice. Consultants often help nonprofit clients to negotiate a release without paying ransom. Also, "ransom" is not always bags of cash as portrayed in movies. Ransom can be monies or services for work that the client organization was going to do anyway, such as building wells, schools or medical clinics. The insurance policy proceeds can be used to reimburse the client for those additional costs.

2)  A belief that purchasing a K & R policy will increase the organization's risk of an incident. This is completely untrue. First of all, very few people in the organization should even know about the coverage. Great care is taken by both insurance organizations and client organizations to keep the existence and details of coverage confidential. Secondly, criminals will kidnap for money with no thought whatsoever to insurance. Bad guys don't care whether or not an organization or family has insurance - they will get their money. The perception, rightly or wrongly, is that foreigners from Western countries are wealthy and are legitimate targets.

Political risk

One of the most important responsibilities for charities operating outside Canada, whether permanently or occasionally, is to demonstrate due diligence in ensuring the safety of employees and volunteers. Although it is virtually impossible to guarantee safety in an ever-changing world, there are at least two ways in which you can reduce the risk of harm to your representatives abroad.

The first is to check with DFAIT for travel reports and warnings for any proposed trips abroad.  Its website contains valuable information on safety and security, civil unrest, local laws and customs, entry requirements, health conditions and infectious disease, and other important travel concerns.

Countries with an asterisk (*) are currently subject to a Travel Warning, indicating that Canadians should either avoid non-essential travel to the country or specific regions, or avoid all travel to the country or specified regions. Failure to do so could result in undue legal liability in the event of death or injury to a participant and may impact health and trip cancellation insurance.

Many organizations will also check with the US Department of State as well to access its research, advisories and warnings regarding travel throughout the world.

Another way to reduce personal and security risk is to partner with local nationals or other international charities or agencies who are already operating in the area, and who have experienced personnel to guide your organization and representatives while traveling and working in their area.

Although this is not a complete summary of risks and insurance considerations, we hope that it has provided your organization and leaders with some practical guidance and tips in eliminating, reducing and transferring the risk associated with relief and development operations outside of Canada. 

Kenneth A. Hall is president of Robertson Hall Insurance. He specializes in insurance protection and risk management advice for over 6,000 churches and Christian charities across Canada. He is a frequent presenter at national denominational conferences, para-church leadership gatherings and various regional seminars. His "Facing the Risk" series of articles highlights the current issues facing Christian charities and their leaders, including abuse prevention, board governance, counselling services and injury prevention.




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