NRC is continuously pushing to expand our access to the most vulnerable people in need of humanitarian assistance. In the Central African Republic many of the people are in areas that are hard to reach due to insecurity and poor infrastructure. But is this the only or even the most important obstacle people are facing to get the help they need?
NRC sought to find out through a study, which asked both humanitarian workers and the people receiving aid what they saw as the most important challenges to humanitarian access. The answers were surprising. While both groups agreed on factors such as insecurity, physical access, corruption, limited funding and fear, humanitarians added other external factors such as the dependency on imported items, too restrictive security measures and difficulty in attracting quality staff.
Those receiving assistance, on the other hand, raised several other issues such as aid diversion because of the population’s own behaviour, and quality issues related to how aid is delivered such as lack of information by aid agencies, incompetence and corruption and perhaps most importantly, lack of engagement between the aid agencies and the affected population.
Photo: NRC/José Cendon
Humanitarian actors often talk of a strategy of “acceptance” as their most important tool to get access to the people in need. This means that the local population in the area where the organisation operates know the organisation and the work it is there to do and actively supports or as a minimum tolerates its presence. While all humanitarian actors interviewed as part of the study emphasised the importance of being accepted by the population as part of their strategy to ensure and expand their access, many acknowledged that they do not invest the necessary time and resources to build and maintain acceptance, and only a few included regular contact with armed actors as part of building this acceptance. Non-state armed actors confirmed this lack of interaction and requested aid agencies to increase their engagement with them.
Humanitarian access is not only about humanitarian agencies reaching those in need, but also about the ability for those in need to access the services that they need. In order to improve the delivery of humanitarian assistance in places such as the Central African Republic, humanitarian actors need to move away from a narrow understanding of humanitarian access which is too focused on the humanitarian actors themselves, and start improving communication and engagement with the populations that we are there to serve.