Master of Advanced Studies
in Humanitarian Logistics and Management


Accessing the Vulnerable in Syria - E.S.

Re-Thinking Accessibility in the Complex Emergency of Syria
by Maria Rumman

In this thesis, I dissect important factors of humanitarian assistance operations and explore their relationship to the accessibility of humanitarian aid in Syria. I look at the implications of funding humanitarian aid and its relation to accessibility of such aid; at the security situation in Syria and its relation to accessibility; and to relief work coordination among humanitarian actors as it relates to accessibility. One should not dismiss the implications of other factors that play into the issue of accessibility, as it is a multifaceted concept, but for this research, the focus will only center on the factors named above.

By examining how funding of humanitarian aid, the security situation on the ground, and coordination among humanitarian organizations interact with accessibility, we hope to shed light on the dynamic challenges of aid operations in a complex emergency. The objectives are to extend the conversation on ways to increase the effectiveness of assistance to vulnerable populations in complex emergency circumstances.

The paper is comprised of six chapters as follows: Chapter 1 illustrates the magnitude of the Syrian crisis and introduces the research questions. Chapter 2 is divided into three parts: funding, security, and coordination. The chapter dissects each of these issues and explores how they relate to humanitarian accessibility in Syria. Chapter 3 elaborates the methodology of the research followed by Chapter 4 that presents the research findings and Chapter 5 that analyzes the data. Lastly, chapter 6 concludes the research and proposes possible future research topics.

In the paper, I attempted to underline the complexity of the accessibility of humanitarian aid in Syria’s crisis situation by exploring how the funding of humanitarian aid, the security situation on the ground and the coordination of relief work influence accessibility.

Research Question

How does the funding of humanitarian aid, the security situation on the ground, and coordination among humanitarian organizations interact to affect the accessibility of humanitarian aid to vulnerable populations in Syria?

Research Objectives

  • Bring attention to the dynamic complexity of accessibility in the context of the complex emergency in Syria.
  • Pave the ground for more in-depth discussion of accessibility and effective humanitarian operations in relation to the already planned protection and early recovery programs in the 2014 Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan (SHARP).


To address the question, I used a largely qualitative approach combined with a quantitative approach, as it was important to measure the following:

  1. area of coverage by humanitarian assistance by sub-districts;
  2. out of the areas covered, what percentage of sub-districts received aid, if the aid is sufficient and the frequency of distribution;
  3.  the extent of unassisted areas;
  4.  whether an attempt has taken place to assist areas that are deemed inaccessible. Also, it was important to understand reasons behind failed attempts that took place to access areas;
  5. the availability of relief items to humanitarian workers;
  6. the availability of relief items in local markets;
  7. common logistical obstacles faced by humanitarian organizations;
  8. subdistricts that are receiving assistance from cross-border operations and the type of assistance received in those areas;
  9. whether coordination is present in order to form the most comprehensive picture possible of the issue of aid accessibility in Syria.

Additionally, 5 interviews were conducted with officials from different UN agencies for the purposes of this research, and 5 agreed to be interviewed. The objective of the interviews was to gather insight from key humanitarian actors on how and if funding, the security situation, and coordination impacted humanitarian accessibility.

The paper concludes that the absence of an existing comprehensive discussion of the evolving nature of the issue of accessibility of humanitarian aid dismisses the humanitarian actors’ natural transition, in the case of the Syrian crisis, to the frontline and becoming policymakers when they argue with one another on what tools to develop; about which rights to promote; which violations to stress and about which procedures work best and how their self- restructuring molds the Syrian identity which in turn reshapes the social contract and becomes a critical concern when state-building occurs.  The impact of the ignored correlation between accessibility and the humanitarian institutions is amplified in areas where accessibility in its most basic definition (i.e., geographical reach) hinders the presence of state-institutions consequently highlighting the expanding role of humanitarian institutions in those areas. It is worth exploring this role further in future research.

This becomes problematic when one is reminded of the finite nature of humanitarian assistance and how such extended responsibilities brought upon humanitarian actors results in a dependency on this aid. It is this dependency that results in dangerous political and socio-economic implications on Syria and the world at large. This calls for the need to investigate, in future research, how swiftly is aid provision shifted to early recovery (e.g income generating programs). While early recovery activities are covered in SHARP [1]’s funding appeal, these activities are the least funded while the crisis is entering its fourth year.



[1] The Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan, a plan issued for the period from 1 January to 31 December 2014, in order to address the continuing increase in large-scale humanitarian needs throughout all 14 governorates. It was developed by the UN, IOM and INGOs that remains complementary to the government led humanitarian response and other appeal frameworks such as those issued by the ICRC and IFRC. The humanitarian response under this plan is implemented in full coordination with the Government of Syria and in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182 (“Strengthening of the Coordination of Humanitarian Emergency Assistance of the United Nations”) and the Guiding Principles in its Annex.  


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