Access and Quality

Enabling access and quality humanitarian aid in insecure environments

Reaching people caught in war, and providing them with appropriate and timely assistance, is a formidable task. Yet in each of the four countries we looked at (Afghanistan, South Central Somalia, South Sudan and Syria), some organisations were managing to get there and make a real difference. We examined what works to enable access and deliver quality assistance to people most in need.

We found that:

  1. Multiple factors, not just one or two, determine whether an organisation can enable access and deliver high-quality assistance under difficult circumstance. Cultivating operational independence, including unrestricted or less restricted funding and independent logistics, for example, gave different types of organisations more flexibility to undertake higher-risk programming. See the full report (PDF) for ‘what works’ in enabling access and quality aid.

  2. Delivering principled and quality aid in war zones involves difficult choices. Agencies must weigh a complex set of risks and benefits, and make decisions with ethical consequences. It is important to openly discuss the compromises needed to help people in dangerous places. Read our report (PDF) published with the Humanitarian Practice Network  at ODI that looks at these issues.

  3. Communicating and negotiating with warring parties is an important first step in enabling access. Aid organisations can operate more safely and effectively when armed groups acknowledge them and know what they’re doing. Find the resource paper (PDF) that explores the experience in the four case study countries, and summarises good practice here.

Main Research Outputs:

What It Takes: Principled pragmatism to enable access and quality humanitarian aid in insecure environments

Tug of War: Ethical decision-making to enable access in high-risk environments

Humanitarian access negotiations with non-state armed groups: Internal guidance gaps and emerging good practice

Additional Resources

Additional Reports

Interim Report: Enabling access and quality aid in insecure environments (PDF)

Literature Review: Access and quality programming (PDF)

Background Briefs:

Afghanistan (PDF)

South Central Somalia (PDF)

South Sudan (PDF)

Syria (PDF)


Securing Access: Maintaining Presence and Proximity in Insecure Settings (Podcast)

Recurring violence against civilians and humanitarian aid workers affects both the quantity and quality of protection and assistance reaching the most vulnerable populations. It also requires a reassessment of how humanitarian professionals plan and strategically implement aid delivery in insecure environments. Global data indicate that there is a relatively small pool of international aid agencies that consistently work in the most dangerous countries, and not enough to meet demand. This results in significant gaps in assistance where it is needed most. In conversations with key experts and practitioners, this podcast will consider how to compensate for this gap and ensure continued presence and proximity in insecure environments.

What Works for Enabling Access? Three Emerging Findings

The SAVE programme is gathering evidence on 'what works' for enabling access and aid quality in insecure environments. This is a first look at the preliminary findings. It highlights three important factors that help enable humanitarian access and delivering higher quality assistance in insecure settings. 

Notes from the Field: Community Perspectives on Aid in Difficult-To-Access Areas

I would have probably been killed in this village of Panjwayi District (Kandahar Province) three years earlier, when I was posted with a humanitarian NGO to Kandahar.  Opposition commanders and informal sharia courts, amidst this main battlefield and IED-heavy area, would have been quick to apprehend me and my notebook, and probably worse.  Fortunately, times have changed.  Although the conflict smoulders in other parts of the province, we can drive to this village now without too much trouble, and spend time with communities.