There are various obstacles which compromise humanitarian actors’ ability to deliver assistance and protection such as, collecting data, monitoring programmes, and ensuring accountability to affected people. Other challenges range from insufficient logistics support, bad weather, prohibitive cultural norms, inadequate staff capacity, a lack of funding to challenges, as well as insecurity and bureaucratic impediments. Compromises are often required by organisations to secure and maintain access.

Humanitarian organisations in Syria had little direct access to the people affected by the crisis. In order to reach the five million people in hard-to-reach and besieged areas, organisations rely heavily on national and local partners for cross-border and cross-line operations. In Yemen, most UN agencies and international NGOs have limited presence outside of the capital, Sana’a. The need to ‘stay and deliver’ in insecure and complex environments is accepted. How it is done, is less well understood.

OPR and P2P support missions have found that Humanitarian Coordinators and Humanitarian Country Teams have been more successful at addressing access obstacles where they work together. Important enablers include having a Humanitarian Country Teams access strategy, adhering to a principled approach, and negotiating with all parties to the conflict.

In the webinar Access: Are we delivering where the needs are?, the Humanitarian Coordinator for the Whole of Syria, the Civil-Military Coordinator with OCHA Mali, and the NGO forum coordinator in South Sudan set out some practical steps for dealing with access challenges. Some steps which may be applicable in other contexts include:

  • Talk to everyone: Dialogue and interact on a daily basis with armed groups to increase understanding and acceptance of humanitarian operations. In Syria, humanitarian actors use Skype to communicate with rebel commanders to ensure safe and secure transit through their territories.
  • Leadership on access: The Humanitarian Coordinator, HCT and the OCHA Head of Office should support access negotiations at the national level. They should endeavour to promote principled humanitarian action and common approaches.
  • Stay flexible and take advantage of opportunities: Employ a flexible approach to access negotiations and adapt quickly to changes in the context. Dynamics can change rapidly in conflict zones providing humanitarians with new opportunities to negotiate access.
  • Establish a long-term strategy: A coherent and consistent approach by the HCT is important for ensuring an effective approach to access constraints. Early engagement is essential to ensure that the access approach is included in the project cycle.

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