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Main trends in humanitarian aid 2012: less successful appeals; rise of Turkey; poor countries doing a lot of the heavy lifting

July 18, 2013
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This year’s Global Humanitarian Assistance Report reports on a ‘quiet year’ (i.e. no mega disasters) in 2012 for global humanitarian aid. Total aid fell to $17.9bn from $19.4bn in 2011. That’s only a small fraction of total aid, but emergencies carry disproportionate weight in public perceptions. A few other points to note, plus some chunks of the inevitable infographic.

  • A grim update on the toll from the hunger crisis in Somalia: 257,000 (4.6% of the total population) died from 2010-12.
  • An absence of mega-disasters makes fundraising for less catastrophic crises harder: The proportion of total UN humanitarian appeals met in 2012 (62.7%) was the lowest for a decade.
  • Turkey was the fourth-largest donor of humanitarian assistance in 2012 (over US$1bn or 0.13% of GNI). This illustrates the rising significance of ‘emerging’ donors but also more comprehensive reporting of humanitarian assistance from a much wider range of providers. More on the rise of Turkey here.
  • Many of the poorest countries provide humanitarian assistance by hosting refugees – for example Pakistan hosted over 1.7m refugees in 2011, Kenya 567,000 and Chad 367,000.
  • Lots of positive developments in humanitarianism, including more cash transfers, an increased focus on resilience, access to info and more attention to disaster prevention and preparedness.
  • The most recent figures for recipient countries are 2011, so Syria won’t feature til next year.





  1. The OECD data on which this report is based includes funding for refugees in the donor country. The appearance of Turkey as the 4th largest humanitarian donor in 2012 is likely to be due to Turkey’s huge response to the Syrian refugee crisis on its borders, rather than Turkey becoming a major international donor for humanitarian work. Nevertheless, it’s another powerful sign of the scale of the crisis in Syria, as well as the huge commitment being made by Turkey to respond to the crisis.

  2. I would like to bring up the budget delusion. Donors normally have their budget discussions as from March before the budget year starts.
    So the budgets are not voted in function of the needs, no they are funded in function of the political cloud of the humanitarian crowd in the period March-October of the year before the needs happen.

    This means that savings/higher budgets are predefined. Once the year is rolling, only sudden heartbreaking suffering can increase budgets. So the relation would be: savings in donor budgets come home to roost.

    As in most years 80 % of the budgets go to complex crisis. Something even more sinister is going on:

    As humanitarian budgets are annual, they get cut more easily than development budgets which are more and more long term.

    This is also the end of results based approaches: a lot of development interventions have no results to speak of, but as they run over multiple years, they are safe from budget cuts. Humanitarian interventions have normally direct results (if not always impact).

  3. 2011 and 2012 were the first 2 years in a long time where ODA decreased; so it’s not just about humanitarian aid, but about overall aid budgets and the difficult economic situation. Budget planning is important but not crucial; for example the CAP process, meant to make humanitarian aid funding needs more programmable, witnessed its lower level of funding in a while as well.
    On the results, it is true that humanitarian aid can give immediate relief and results, but development aid is considered as long term; what we need is a stronger link between the two, looking for example at more prevention.

  4. The CAP-process is irrelevant for the budget planning: In Europe, budgets are ready by mid-October, the CAP is only ready by the end of November.

    We absolutely do not need a better link between humanitarian aid and development aid. This is really a misconception without any logic into it. Development aid must just abandon the “long term planning”concept. This long term planning means that every 4 years or so a joint programme is concocted (multilaterals and donor countries. Concocting such a programme typically takes anything between 2 and 4 years. Donors and countries block their money in long term commitments and cannot react quickly on changing situations. Then humanitarians (such as GHA)abandon the most needy and stop saving lives, to start prevention work, linking relief to development etc.
    I don’t know how to get out of this conundrum: as humanitarians we cannot let them die waiting for the development people to arrive in 4 years.

    One of my worst experiences was attending the GHD-group in the first six months of Syria and the height of Mali, and spending the whole meeting discussing “resilience” with some donor-paid consultant: Saving lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity, when there is no other fad to distract us.

  5. Humanitarian assistance is intended to be “short-term in nature and provide for activities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster”. In reality we know assistance often goes to the same crises, to the same people, year-on-year. For example, Sudan has received over US$10 billion in humanitarian assistance in the last ten years, that’s US$10 billion that has been planned and disbursed within short term funding cycles.

    We are not proposing that development aid replaces humanitarian assistance, but instead that longer term planning and investments are made in some protracted humanitarian situations. The humanitarian community is already looking at ways to do this, for example through the three year UN CAP for Somalia – the first of its kind. We know that the same people vulnerable to and affected by humanitarian crises are often those that are living in absolute chronic poverty. Of course we still need to respond to people affected by humanitarian crises quickly and effectively but we also need to address the root causes of vulnerability and poverty by minimising people’s risk and increasing resilience.

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