Humanitarian Access

What is humanitarian access?


Humanitarian access is generally defined as “Humanitarian actors’ ability to reach populations affected by crisis, as well as an affected population's ability to access humanitarian assistance and services" (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA on Message: Humanitarian Access, OCHA, New York, April 2010).

While this definition appears to focus on movement and logistics; in practice, humanitarian access also entails the ability of humanitarians and populations to engage one another in programming which is independent of outside interference.


Staff should seek to ensure that UNICEF and its partners can deliver, and that vulnerable children can receive, humanitarian assistance and protection in a manner that:

  • Is rapid, unimpeded, and consistent;

  • Is in line with international law; humanitarian, protection, and CRC principles; and CCC standards;

  • Reaches all targeted populations with required assistance and protection services; and,

  • Enables assessments, assistance/service delivery as well as monitoring and evaluation.


Why is UNICEF interested in humanitarian access?


UNICEF’s humanitarian activities cannot take place unless humanitarians and populations can access one another. In other words, humanitarian access is a prerequisite for humanitarian action which aims to save lives, alleviate suffering and preserve human dignity. Consequently, UNICEF requires humanitarian access to implement the Core Commitments for Children in Humanitarian Action and to deliver on its children-centered mandate.

While necessary for humanitarian action, access is challenged, limited and diminished by “access constraints.” Unfortunately, access constraints are growing more common and more complex across contexts and around the globe. Armed conflicts are more protracted, violent and increasingly urban; armed non-state actors (ANSAs) are more fragmented with decentralized control and shifting alliances; and some affected governments’ and member states’ laws and policies – including on counterterrorism, “prevention of violent extremism”, sanction regimes, stabilization efforts – are unintentionally but dangerously politicizing humanitarian action. Humanitarian actors, including UNICEF and its partners, must work together to mitigate or overcome access constraints by adopting access improvement measures (AIMs). Common examples of these measures include humanitarian negotiation, public or private advocacy and more.


These measures, and others, promote the unimpeded movement of goods, personnel, and populations; as well as independent programming which ensures that populations are accessed, selected and assisted impartiality on the basis of need.


What is UNICEF’s role in humanitarian access?


UNICEF’s role in humanitarian access is based on its mandate and its inter-agency responsibilities.


First, UNICEF’s mandate implies that it must work to promote humanitarian access to children whenever and wherever there are gaps in interagency efforts to do so.


Second, UNICEF can play a role in humanitarian access by adding its comparative advantages to the collective strength of the interagency system.


UNICEF’s comparative advantages in humanitarian access include:


  • Popularity and widespread perception of legitimacy associated with UNICEF’s child-centred mandate;

  • A strong, large, and widespread field presence;

  • A strong advocacy voice;

  • Longstanding relationships with host governments;

  • Longstanding relationships with communities, local actors, and other stakeholders; and

  • Leadership in several clusters.


How can EMOPS/HPS support you?


EMOPS/HPS regularly supports Country and Field Offices through humanitarian access briefings, helping to inventory access constraints, select AIMs, and draft Access Strategies. The team is also available for context-specific questions through personalized and direct remote or in-person support, and UNICEF Regional, Country, and Field Offices are encouraged to contact EMOPS/HPS with any queries.

Related Knowledge Bases

Armed Non-State Actors


Humanitarian Policy Section 

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