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Breaking through the barriers to assistance

Written by Sara Pantuliano

Leading humanitarian experts will debate the obstacles to delivering care, food and shelter to people suffering amid conflict or natural disaster this Monday, April 29th.

Violence and red tape have long impeded access for relief organisations. National assertiveness and ideological opposition are added barriers in many places. The discussion hosted by the Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will ask if the challenges are getting worse and what can be done to tackle them.

Calling on their experiences in fraught conflicts like Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Myanmar, the experts will outline how aid agencies have had to beg, plead and smuggle their way into civil war zones and dangerous hotspots to assist the most vulnerable.

Humanitarians are often faced with moral dilemmas when attempting to deliver aid in complex environments. How do we avoid danger to aid workers while negotiating with armed groups or warring governments? Finding the best option is difficult; there is no rule book,” said the head of HPG, Sara Pantuliano.

The principle of humanity is the driving force behind the delivery of assistance to those in need. Looking for any means possible, even cross-border aid not based on the consent of a host state, can become an option. While this choice would be dictated by humanity, impartiality should never be neglected. Aid agencies should always ask themselves whether in their attempt to get access to affected civilians they risk compromising principles such as impartiality and neutrality,” added Dr Pantuliano.

"The ICRC approach is to build trust and acceptance through negotiation with all parties to a conflict. That's the way we do it, but it's not always guaranteed to work. It is not the case that one-size-fits-all for humanitarians. We know other agencies have different approaches,” said Brian Tisdall, the ICRC’s Head of Multilateral Organisations, Policy and Humanitarian Action.

Dr Pantuliano from HPG and Mr Tisdall from the ICRC will be joined by Marc DuBois of Médecins Sans Frontières UK and Imran Madden of Muslim Aid UK.

Journalists are invited to attend “Getting where needed: overcoming aid access obstacles” held at the Overseas Development Institute, Monday 29 April from 14:00-16:00. There will be an opportunity to interview the panellists following the event. The event will also be live streamed on the Overseas Development Institute website, click here to register.

For more information please contact Tania Cheung, HPG Communications Officer at [email protected], +44 (0) 202 7922 0348 or Sean Maguire, ICRC Spokesman, UK at [email protected], +44 (0) 207 877 7330.