1. Overview

The mobilisation of an emergency response requires an operating environment that is conducive to the deployment of relief workers and supplies, managed in line with humanitarian principles of independence and impartiality. This operating environment is called humanitarian space. Humanitarian space refers to geographical space in which there is physical access to people in need, and institutional space in which positive social, political and military conditions (including security and immunity from attack) are ensured. This implies that aid agencies are free to assist populations in need, and are not constrained by political or physical barriers. For this to be the case, humanitarian agencies need to be free to make their own choices, based solely on the criteria of need.

Humanitarian space is also defined in terms of the rights of beneficiary populations to humanitarian assistance and protection. This definition grounds the concept in a rights-based approach, which implies that actors-including governments and warring parties-have obligations with respect to their right to assist and protect.

The establishment and maintenance of humanitarian space allows aid agencies to access affected people and provide humanitarian assistance. If safe and secure humanitarian space is not established or maintained, humanitarian operations are put at risk and may have to stop. Humanitarian space is a critical issue for operations both at a field level and in terms of international-level policies, institutions and funding.