Too few aid groups can stay in war zones, say relief chiefs

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Aid agencies continue to adapt to increasing humanitarian needs, including in Burkina Faso. Photo: NRC/Ingrid Prestetun

Major aid operations to help the world's most vulnerable people are failing "in too many places" despite the best efforts of courageous humanitarian workers, senior relief chiefs said on Thursday.

The comments by UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) head Jan Egeland accompanied a new report into aid agency operations in conflict zones.

Its findings show that "too few" relief agencies are reaching vulnerable communities, despite a genuine commitment to stay and deliver aid, in an increasing number of conflict-driven crises.

Daniel Johnson has more.

The report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) shows a commitment by aid agencies to maintain a field presence in highly insecure places that they "would not have done…five or 10 years ago".

But UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien told journalists in Geneva that the study highlighted the problem faced by agencies:

"There's a lot of staying, but the challenge for delivery remains as has always been the case, in the most difficult areas, how do you ensure delivery at the same time as the protection of your aid workers and delivering protection services to the most vulnerable populations."

In Yemen, the report states that UN and other international workers returned as quickly as possible to the country after evacuating when conflict erupted in March 2015.

Likewise in Syria, UN staff and partners have risked their lives to carry out aid deliveries across front lines during the six-year conflict.

Elsewhere, the study finds that many humanitarian organisations made "subjective" decisions about when to return to crisis-hit zones, sometimes based on media coverage.

In Afghanistan, as well as in Yemen and Syria, the report also finds that "the majority" of humanitarian actors focused their activities on "relatively safe areas", neglecting the more remote and insecure areas where needs existed.

Head of the Norwegian Refugee Council Jan Egeland said in Geneva that the report showed how the international humanitarian community "is failing too many people in too many places".

"Extreme risks and threats" were "paralysing" too many organisations, he continued, amid increasingly complex conflicts, attacks on aid workers and insufficient risk assessment.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’45″


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