First Look at Findings on Humanitarian Coverage


Abby Stoddard     Aug 2015


The preliminary findings of SAVE research on Presence and Coverage are beginning to emerge, shedding new light on how humanitarian access is affected by insecurity. While it is well understood that access is reduced and constrained in violent environments, there has never been an attempt to measure these effects – in part because the humanitarian footprint itself has never been fully quantified. SAVE is attempting to fill this evidence gap.  The research methodology has involved systematic data gathering in the four field settings (Afghanistan, South Central Somalia, South Sudan and Syria), as well as remote surveying of affected populations, as well as close to 300 qualitative interviews with aid practitioners.

Data analysis is ongoing, and the final results will be presented towards the end of 2015, but initial findings reveal a few interesting features of aid operations amid high insecurity.

1) Security is the number one determinant of humanitarian operational presence and coverage of needs. Initial quantitative analysis has found the higher the level of insecurity (as measured by the incidence of major attacks), the weaker the humanitarian coverage (as measured by the numbers of organisations and projects in relation to the number of people in need). This fact tends to be obscured at the national level, as it is increasingly uncommon for aid agencies to pull out of a county completely, even after suffering significant casualties. Rather, they will withdraw from particular localities, change the configuration of their staff presence, or change their ways of operating. By measuring presence at the provincial and district levels, the team was able to demonstrate how humanitarian operational presence tends to concentrate in the more secure areas where access is easier, but needs are less acute. (The exception to this is in the capital cities, where attacks are often numerous but humanitarian presence is still large, given this is where organisations have their headquarters – what the research has dubbed the ‘capital city paradox’.).

2) Agencies’ operational adaptations follow distinct patterns, depending on the context. Apart from MSF and a few other exceptions, the way that international agencies have found it possible to remain operational in Afghanistan is by adopting a low-profile, highly localised approach to programming. In contrast, the predominant operational paradigm in South Central Somalia has been programming almost exclusively through local partners (a model now under strain due to past revelations of corruption). And in Syria and South Sudan, the necessary modalities have involved rapid/mobile deliveries and a very low level of static programming. All of these adaptations have their advantages in terms of security as well as significant downsides in terms of operational and access constraints, which will be explored in more depth by SAVE’s Component 2.

3) Affected populations view the security problem differently than aid organisations. The affected populations surveyed in Afghanistan and South Sudan share the view that insecurity is the most significant barrier to receiving aid. However, for the most part, they do not perceive aid organisations to be in specific danger of violence (the only place this was not the case was in Helmand Province in Afghanistan). The seeming contradiction is attributed to affected populations making a distinction between the generalised insecurity (e.g. active fighting) in their areas as compared to belligerents specifically targeting aid workers. In South Central Somalia, there was a different finding. In that context, corruption is the biggest impediment to receiving aid (only 2% of respondents saw insecurity as a major obstacle to providing or receiving aid).

As we continue to develop our analysis we will share the findings on the blog. We are keen to have your feedback, or if you have questions, please get in touch.