Presence and Coverage

The effects of insecurity on humanitarian coverage

Many humanitarian organisations work in active conflict zones under direct threat of violence. This significantly constrains their operations, and makes it difficult to deliver the aid people need. We looked at two questions: how many aid agencies are able to get access to the most dangerous places? And how do access constraints affect ‘humanitarian coverage’ – the degree to which people in need are being reached by the aid system?

View an interactive version of our findings


We found that:

  1. Far fewer aid agencies work in dangerous countries than in safe ones, and not nearly enough are there to provide people with what they need.
  2. In high-risk countries, aid agencies tend to narrow their field presence and cluster in safer areas. Only a small group of humanitarian organisations operate in the highest-risk places. Surveys of people living in high-risk areas say that aid is declining even as their needs are rising.
  3. As access becomes more difficult, aid becomes more basic and less responsive to the most critical needs and the most vulnerable people.
  4. Donor policies and agency incentives can work against humanitarian access and coverage while making the aid presence seem more robust than it actually is. There needs to be more operational transparency about where aid agencies are able to operate and greater strategic prioritisation to fill gaps, as well as greater consideration of how to ensure impartial humanitarian coverage.

Main Research Outputs:

The effects of insecurity on humanitarian coverage

Additional Resources

Additional Report

Interim Report: The effects of insecurity on humanitarian coverage (PDF)


Who's out there? Getting an accurate picture of humanitarian presence (Webinar)

In a humanitarian crisis, one of the most important things to know is who is doing what, and where. That said, it has always been difficult to get an accurate and well-informed understanding of the presence of humanitarian actors on the ground, due to the autonomous and de-centralised nature of humanitarian responses. This is particularly the case in highly insecure settings. ALNAP's Bridging the Evidence Gap webinar series, discusses Humanitarian Outcomes' work on mapping the presence of local and international humanitarian actors. 

The View from the Foxhole: How Risk and the Fragmented Perspective of Agencies Limits the Reach of Humanitarian Aid

How does imbalanced coverage come about in a field dedicated to providing aid ‘on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress’? This guest blog for ATHA comes from Abby Stoddard. Abby is a Partner with Humanitarian Outcomes, an international research consultancy providing analysis and policy advice for humanitarian agencies and donor governments.

Communication in Conflicts: It’s Essential (Podcast)

Where aid is most needed in a conflict it may be too difficult for international eyes to be on the ground. In these circumstances dialogue with communities to make sure aid is reaching those most in need is more important than ever. During the World Humanitarian Summit I spoke with Madam President Fatima Gailani of the Afghanistan Red Crescent Society and Abby Stoddard of Humanitarian Outcomes, a researcher on access to conflict affected countries.

Notes from the Field: The Struggle for Access in South Sudan

All eyes are on Addis Ababa, waiting to see the fate of yet another proposed peace-agreement. Meanwhile, the most affected areas and people of this conflict remain cut off from humanitarian aid. The SAVE research programme has monitored humanitarian access- the degree to which affected people are able to reach, and be reached by, humanitarian aid - in South Sudan for the past ten months. During lulls in the conflict, when aid agencies feel relatively safe at their program sites, with no shelling to be heard in the distance, it is the extreme logistical challenges of unforgiving terrain and remote locations that keeps aid from reaching further. During these times the focus is on airstrips, road conditions, flooding, the price of airplanes and helicopters, and the prioritisation of locations and supplies.

First Look at Findings on Humanitarian Coverage

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 full this evidence gap.