Humanitarian Terms

In addition to the list of humanitarian terms below, ReliefWeb has compiled a glossary of humanitarian terms which provides a focus on common usage and understanding of terms within a humanitarian context, particularly as relating to natural disasters, complex emergencies and disaster risk reduction.

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Includes fisheries, animal husbandry and inputs such as seeds; aid activities helping to improve food security, agricultural and veterinary training.

Climate Change and Environment

Humanitarian implications of climate change and/or environmental changes, such as increased vulnerability, migration or displacement.


Financial and in-kind humanitarian aid, as announced by the recipient (government, multilateral agencies, and NGOs), by donors (government, multilateral funding institutions, and the Central Emergency Response Fund), or in media reporting.


Intra- and inter-cluster coordination, civil-military coordination, private sector partnership.

Disaster Management

Policy and operational activities pertaining to the various stages of natural disasters at all levels, including early warning, disaster preparedness, prevention, risk reduction and mitigation. Disaster response activities in specific emergencies are tagged with individual themes (agriculture, food and nutrition, etc.)


Establishment of temporary learning spaces, provision of school supplies, and support to teachers and other school personnel, governmental entities. Post-conflict/disaster normalization support, including rehabilitation of schooling infrastructure, disaster risk reduction in schools, school feeding. Adult education after crises is covered under ”Recovery and Reconstruction.”

Food and Nutrition

Covers food security, food aid, food aid management and distribution, supplementary feeding, therapeutic feeding and nutritional additives.


Women and girls as victims of emergencies or disasters, peacemakers and agents of change, and as beneficiaries of humanitarian action, focusing on issues affecting the genders differently.


Emergency medical services, equipment and supplies, including reproductive health, nutrition, psychosocial support, health education, mobile medical clinics and disease control.


Delivery of HIV/AIDS services in emergencies and humanitarian consequences of prolonged high prevalence.

Humanitarian Financing

Good humanitarian donorship and related policy framework and coordinated funding mechanisms such as pooled funds (Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), Common Humanitarian Fund (CHF), Emergency Response Fund (ERF)). Accountability and transparency. Partnership.

Logistics and Telecommunications

Operational activities concerned with the supply, handling, storage and transportation of aid material and aid workers. Provision of ICT services and support to aid personnel serving in emergencies.

Mine Action

Activities which aim to reduce the social, economic and environmental impact of mines, unexploded ordnance (UXO) and explosive remnants of war (ERW) including unexploded sub-munitions, such as mine risk education, humanitarian demining, victim assistance, stockpile destruction and advocacy.

Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding

Conflict analysis, management and prevention. Ceasefire/peace negotiation and processes. Boundary negotiation. Disarmament/demobilisation/reintegration activities. Multilateral peacekeeping and political missions. Electoral support/observation missions.

Protection and Human Rights

Pertains to civilians, IDPs and refugees in the context of human rights violations, gender-based violence, international humanitarian, criminal and human rights law.

Recovery and Reconstruction

Replacement/restoration of assets, infrastructure and livelihoods lost, damaged or interrupted in natural disasters or conflict.

Safety and Security

Policies, measures and incidents relating to safety and security of humanitarian aid workers in the field. Safety and security of civilians is covered under “Protection and Human Rights.”

Shelter and Non-Food Items

Provision of shelter materials and non-food household item packages (including blankets, clothing, stoves, cooking equipment, etc). Establishment and management of camps for displaced people. Long-term/permanent reconstruction/rebuilding is covered under “Recovery and reconstruction.”

Water Sanitation Hygiene

Emergency provision of safe drinking water, hygiene and sanitation services, environmental sanitation and water supply, as well as hygiene promotion campaigns.

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Content format


Reports that present an in-depth understanding of humanitarian issues and frequently conclude with recommendations for action by the aid community fall into this category, as do country/thematic policy papers, background papers, briefing papers, conference/workshop reports and (annual) thematic flagship reports of UN agencies/IGOs/NGOs.


Substantive documents targeting the donor community or private donors, setting out financial requirements to provide humanitarian (or recovery/reconstruction) assistance, including the Humanitarian Action Plans (HAPs, formerly Consolidated Appeals Process and Flash Appeals), IFRC Appeals and Country Plans, and ACT Appeals. Short announcements by organizations appealing for funding are included in “News and Press Releases.”


Studies or missions conducted to measure the extent of humanitarian needs on the ground, such as UN Inter-Agency needs assessment mission reports, UNDAC mission reports and WFP/FAO food security assessments.

Evaluation and Lessons Learned

Studies to measure humanitarian activities and their level of efficiency, drawing lessons, making recommendations and/or proposing improvements for future similar action, including evaluations of actions during a crisis, donor governments’ evaluation reports assessing the efficiency of funding vs. assistance provided, IASC Real Time Evaluation Reports.


Visual representation of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly using charts, diagrams, tables, and statistics, including maps, where 75-100% of the content consists of graphics.


Web-based visuals with clickable points which allow users to display and/or query data or information layers.

Manual and Guideline

Includes toolkits, resource guides, FAQs, tools, handbooks, guides, study materials, standards, best practices, how-to guides, glossaries, reference materials, bibliographies, etc.


Visual geographic representation of an area, region or country, where 75-100% of the content consists of maps with limited texts and graphics, which focus on explaining/illustrating geography and location.

News and Press Release

Secondary information reports, for example articles from news agencies/media, as well as documents from various entities announcing new information on their activities, opinions and decisions.


Everything that does not fall into any of the other formats, such as agreements and conventions, advisories, project plans/descriptions, and documents comprising only tables.

Situation Report

Reports containing updated information on emergencies/disasters. A situation report typically covers a specific period of time, is often divided by sectors/clusters or is about one sector/cluster of activity. Includes OCHA Situation Reports, humanitarian bulletins, FEWS NET Food Security Outlooks and Updates, and UNHCR Humanitarian Updates.

UN Document

Official UN documents, such as reports of the Secretary-General, the Security Council and General Assembly as well as official/session documents (resolutions, decisions, etc.) of UN agencies.

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OCHA product

  • Flash Update

  • Humanitarian Bulletin (including Bulletin humanitaire [but not RDC Bulletin d'Information Humanitaire], Boletin Humanitario, oPt Humanitarian Monitor Monthly report and Ethiopia Weekly Humanitarian Bulletin)

  • Humanitarian Dashboard (including Tableau de bord humanitaire)

  • Humanitarian Needs Overview (use also for Aperçu des besoins humanitaires, also comes as Mid-Year Review)

  • Humanitarian Snapshot (including Apercu)

  • Infographic (Document contains visual representations of information, data or knowledge intended to present complex information quickly and clearly using charts, diagrams, tables, and statistics, including maps. 75-100% contents are graphic and in two pages or less. Maps contains in the infographic should be less than 75% of infographic. Includes Funding Updates, but NOT dashboards and snapshots since they are tagged separately)

  • Key Messages

  • Other (for everything that doesn't fall in any of the other categories, including REDLAC Weekly Note on Emergencies, Protection of Civilians Weekly Report, Incident Reports, Humanitarians in Action, Bulletin d'Information Humanitaire, Top/Web stories, factsheets, annual reports, Situation humanitaire en RDC : Note d’information à la presse, media advisories, etc.)

  • Press Release

  • Press Review (including Revue de Presse)

  • Reference Map (Map shows location of the geographic areas as in administrative boundaries and populated places, as well as major physical features, such as roads, railroads, coastlines, rivers and lakes. Includes Location Maps)

  • Situation Report (including Rapport de situation and Informe de situación)

  • Statement/Speech from OCHA USG/ASG/Directors.

  • Thematic Map (Map that focuses on a particular theme or special topic with a specific geographic area and they are different from general reference maps. Includes disaster location maps and 3W maps)

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Disaster Type

Cold Wave (GLIDE hazard code: CW)

A drop in atmospheric temperature well above the averages of a region, affecting people, crops, property and services. A cold wave can be both a prolonged period of excessively cold weather and the sudden invasion of very cold air over a large area. Along with frost it can cause damage to agriculture, infrastructure, property. Damage caused by low temperatures. (CRED EM-DAT)

Drought (GLIDE hazard code: DR)

Pronounced absence or marked deficiency of precipitation for extended periods, affecting livelihoods (agriculture and livestock), water and food availability, and leading to competition over resources and other humanitarian impacts. When consecutive failure of more than 2-3 seasonal rains (particularly in sub-Saharan Africa), compounded by the preceding shocks and/or existing vulnerabilities, exhaust or over-extend the traditional coping mechanisms, it often leads to humanitarian consequences (food insecurity, malnutrition, loss of livelihoods).

Long lasting event; triggered by lack of precipitation. A drought is an extended period of time characterised by a deficiency in a region's water supply that is the result of constantly below average precipitation. A drought can lead to losses to agriculture, affect inland navigation and hydropower plants, and cause a lack of drinking water and famine. (CRED EM-DAT)

Earthquake (GLIDE hazard code: EQ)

A shaking or trembling of the earth that is volcanic or tectonic in origin causing damage or negative effect on communities or property. Shaking and displacement of ground due to seismic waves. This is the earthquake itself WITHOUT secondary effects. An earthquake is the result of a sudden release of stored energy in the Earth's crust that creates seismic waves. They can be of tectonic or volcanic origin. At the Earth's surface they are felt as a shaking or displacement of the ground. The energy released in the hypocenter can be measured in different frequency ranges. Therefore there are different scales for measuring the magnitude of a quake according to a certain frequency range. Those are: a) surface wave magnitude (Ms); b) body wave magnitude (Mb); c) local magnitude (ML); moment magnitude. (CRED EM-DAT)

Epidemic (GLIDE hazard code: EP)

Either an unusual increase in the number of cases of an infectious disease, which already exists in the region or population concerned; or the appearance of an infection previously absent from a region. (CRED EM-DAT)

Following the World Health Organisation, ReliefWeb mainly focuses in this category, but not limited to:

  • Cholera
  • Emerging diseases (e.g. nodding disease)
  • Meningitis
  • Rift Valley fever
  • Viral haemorrhagic fevers (Ebola, Marburg, Lassa, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, etc.)
  • Viral hepatitis (A, B, C, E)
  • Yellow fever
Extra-tropical cyclone (GLIDE hazard code: ET)

Low-pressure system that develops in latitudes outside the tropics.

Fire (GLIDE hazard code: FR)

Included in this category are urban, industrial or rural fires, linked to natural phenomena, such as electrical storms, earthquakes, droughts, etc.but not including wild fires, which refer to uncontrolled fire in rural areas, forests, plains, etc. Directly human-induced fires are classified as Technological Disaster.

Flash flood and Flood

Flooding that develops very quickly on streams and river tributaries with a relatively high peak discharge is categorized as a flash flood, usually as a result of thunderstorms, whereas Flood refers to rivers breaking banks or the accumulation of water by drainage over areas that are not normally submerged. Excludes tidal flooding in coastal zones, which are categorised as “Storm Surge”.

Flash Flood (GLIDE hazard code: FF)

Rapid inland floods due to intense rainfall A flash flood describes sudden flooding with short duration. In sloped terrain the water flows rapidly with a high destruction potential. In flat terrain the rainwater cannot infiltrate into the ground or run off (due to small slope) as quickly as it falls. Flash floods typically are associated with thunderstorms. A flash flood can occur at virtually any place. (CRED EM-DAT)

Flood (GLIDE hazard code: FL)

Significant rise of water level in a stream, lake, reservoir or coastal region (CRED EM-DAT)

Heat wave (GLIDE hazard code: HT)

Marked warming of the air, or the invasion of very warm air, over a large area, usually lasting from a few days to a few weeks, affecting people, crops, property and services.

A heat wave is a prolonged period of excessively hot and sometimes also humid weather relative to normal climat patterns of a certain region. Heat waves like in Central Europe 2003. (CRED EM-DAT)

Insect infestation (GLIDE hazard code: IN)

Proliferation of insects or animal pests affecting communities, agriculture, cattle or stored perishable goods; for example locusts, African bees, Army worms.

Pervasive influx and development of insects or parasites affecting humans, animals, crops and materials.(CRED EM-DAT)

Landslide (GLIDE hazard code: LS)

The usually rapid downward movement of a mass of rock, earth, or artificial fill on a slope. Covers all mass movements other than Mudslide (MS) and Avalanche (AV).

Any kind of moderate to rapid soil movement incl. lahar, mudslide, debris flow. A landslide is the movement of soil or rock controlled by gravity and the speed of the movement usually ranges between slow and rapid, but not very slow. It can be superficial or deep, but the materials have to make up a mass that is a portion of the slope or the slope itself. The movement has to be downward and outward with a free face.(CRED EM-DAT)

Other (GLIDE hazard code: OT)

Everything that does not fall into any of the other disaster types. Special situations such as El Nino, Energy crisis, etc.

Severe local storm (GLIDE hazard code: ST)

A tornado, waterspout, or a thunderstorm with winds of 50 knots (25 m/s) or greater and/or hailstones. Usually results in significant damage to property.

A severe storm or thunderstorm is the result of convection and condensation in the lower atmosphere and the accompanying formation of a cumulonimbus cloud. A severe storm usually comes along with high winds, heavy precipitation (rain, sleet, hail), thunder and lightning. (CRED EM-DAT)

Snow avalanche (GLIDE hazard code: AV)

Mass of snow and ice falling suddenly down a mountain slope and often taking with it earth, rocks and rubble of every description. Avalanche describes a quantity of snow or ice that slides down a mountainside under the force of gravity. It occurs if the load on the upper snow layers exceeds the bonding forces of the entire mass of snow. It often gathers material that is underneath the snowpack like soil, rock etc (debris avalanche). Any kind of rapid snow/ice movement. (CRED EM-DAT)

Storm surge (GLIDE hazard code: SS)

The difference between the actual water level under influence of a meteorological disturbance (storm tide) and the level, which would have been attained in the absence of the meteorological disturbance (i.e. astronomical tide). Includes tidal flooding in coastal zones.

Coastal flood on coasts and lake shores induced by wind. A storm surge is the rise of the water level in the sea, an estuary or lake as result of strong wind driving the seawater towards the coast. This so-called wind setup is superimposed on the normal astronomical tide. The mean high water level can be exceeded by five and more metres. The areas threatened by storm surges are coastal lowlands. (CRED EM-DAT)

Technological disaster (GLIDE hazard code: AC)

ReliefWeb usually does not cover incidents that happen due to outdated equipment/infrastructure or insufficient safety measures, such as ferry and barge accidents, even if the number of casualties is high.

Tropical cyclone (GLIDE hazard code: TC)

Generic term for a non-frontal synoptic scale cyclone originating over tropical or subtropical waters. In the Caribbean Sea, they are known as Hurricanes; in the tropical areas of the Pacific and Indian Ocean, they are referred to as Cyclones, and in the West Pacific Ocean, they are called Typhoons.

A tropical cyclone is a non-frontal storm system that is characterised by a low pressure center, spiral rain bands and strong winds. Usually it originates over tropical or sub-tropical waters and rotates clockwise in the southern hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the northern hemisphere. The system is fueled by heat released when moist air rises and the water vapor it contains condenses ("warm core" storm system). Therefore the water temperature must be >27 °C. Depending on their location and strength, tropical cyclones are referred to as hurricane (western Atlantic/eastern Pacific), typhoon (western Pacific), cyclone (southern Pacific/Indian Ocean), tropical storm, and tropical depression (defined by wind speed; see Saffir-Simpson-Scale). Cyclones in tropical areas e.g. hurricanes, typhoons, tropical depressions etc (names depending on location). (CRED EM-DAT)

Tsunami (GLIDE hazard code: TS)

A great sea wave produced by submarine earth movement or volcanic eruption.

Waves advancing inland. A tsunami is a series of waves caused by a rapid displacement of a body of water (ocean, lake). The waves are characterised by a very long wavelength and their amplitude is much smaller offshore. The impact in coastal areas can be very destructive as the waves advance inland and can extend over thousands of kilometers. Triggers of a tsunami can be: earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, mass movements, meteorite impacts or underwater explosions.(CRED EM-DAT)

Volcano (GLIDE hazard code: VO)

Volcanic eruption with disastrous effects: eruption and emission of gas and ashes, stone falls (pyroclast), flows of lava, etc.

(Volcanic eruption) All volcanic activity like rock fall, ash fall, lava streams, gases etc. Volcanic activity desribes both the transport of magma and/or gases to the Earth's surface, which can be accompanied by tremors and eruptions, and the interaction of magma and water (e.g. groundwater, crater lakes) underneath the Earth's surface, which can result in phreatic eruptions. Depending on the composition of the magma eruptions can be explosive and effusive and result in variations of rock fall, ash fall, lava streams, pyroclastic flows, emission of gases etc.(CRED EM-DAT)

Wild Fire (GLIDE hazard code: WF)

The event includes all uncontrolled open-air fires in rural areas, natural and artificial forests, plains, bush areas, etc.

Wildfire describes an uncontrolled burning fire, usually in wild lands, which can cause damage to forestry, agriculture, infrastructure and buildings. Fire in forested/bush areas e.g. California, Australia. (CRED EM-DAT)

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Vulnerable Groups

  • Aged Persons

  • Children

  • IDPs

  • Persons with Disabilities

  • Refugees

  • Women

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Primary Country

The country where the crisis or intervention activities are taking place or to which policies refer. Other countries mentioned would be secondary tags. In case of refugee situations, the primary country would be the focus, for instance, if the document talks about protection concerns of Iraqi refugees in Kuwait, the latter is the primary country. When multiple countries are equally affected, the most vulnerable is the primary country.

For global reports that focus on a particular humanitarian issue as opposed to specific countries/situations, ‘World’ is the primary country. This also applies to reports that look in detail at several countries.

The primary country is displayed in full in content rivers with other countries indicated in numbers (e.g. Syria + 3 other). The primary country is clickable for further navigation.

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Career Category (applies to Jobs and Training)

Human Resources

Human Resources covers management of people within organizations, such as recruitment, hiring, retention, training and career development of employees for the successful operation of organizations.

Donor Relations/Grants Management

Donor Relations/Grants Management covers activities related to fundraising, such as developing proposals for resource mobilization; managing and maintaining partnerships; monitoring and reporting on funds received in accordance with donor agreements.


Administration/Finance pertains to operational and financial activities related to running an organization; financial and operational management and oversight of assets and resources of an organization and its activities including budgeting, accounting, auditing; and general office support.

Information Management

Information Management covers collecting, consolidating, analyzing, visualizing and/or sharing of data/information about crises/disasters including developing and maintaining standards, databases, systems, tools, platforms and products; Includes mapping/GIS functions.

Information and Communications Technology

Information and Communications Technology covers planning and managing ICT infrastructure to create, process, store, access and transmit all forms of information and electronic data, including audio-visual and telecommunication networks, software and application development, hardware and network architecture to meet the ICT needs of an organization.


Logistics/Procurement refers to the supply chain management covering planning and execution of guidance and policy of acquisitions, procurement, warehousing, asset/inventory management, transportation and freight planning of goods and resources.


Media/Communication covers delivery of public information using various communication channels such as reports, print, internet, social media, digital audio/visual productions; developing and managing communication campaigns, building and facilitating strategic contacts; includes translation services.

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring and Evaluation covers collecting and assessing information on quality and progress of projects and programmes, designing methodologies and evaluation tools; recommending best practices and lessons learned to improve effectiveness and impact of activities through reports, training/workshop, etc.

Program/Project Management

Program/Project Management pertains to the management of all stages of a program/project cycle - planning, design development, proposal writing, implementation, reporting, program/project operations, quality assurance and compliance; overseeing staff and processes, and facilitating strategic contacts.

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Training Type (applies to Training)

Academic degree/course

Academic Degree/Course includes training opportunities provided by academic and research institutions, and/or non-academic institutions' programs that are accredited by academic institutions.

Conference/Call for Papers

Conference/Call for Papers includes events such as symposiums, summits, forums and call for papers. Does not include shorter, lecture- and discussion-style events.


Lecture/Discussion includes short events, advertised as talks, lectures, discussions, report launches, including e.g., Twitter chats, webinars.


Training/Workshop includes specialized programs/events focusing on knowledge and skill-set development.

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Status (applies to Disasters)


A disaster with significant humanitarian impact and and ongoing response and/or recovery and reconstruction operations.


A developing disaster situation that has the potential for significant humanitarian impact.


A disaster with significant humanitarian impact for which there haven’t been any substantive updates in over four weeks or for which there is evidence that the main response activities have been completed.

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Organization type

Academic and Research Institution
Includes universities, colleges, think tanks, private organizations focusing on research and analysis
Includes national and local government agencies, including development, emergency, civil protection, etc.
International Organization
Includes international governmental organizations and UN agencies, funds and programmes
Includes local, national and international print, TV, online and radio media agencies
Non-governmental Organization
Includes organizations that operate independently from any government, including civil society
Includes all that are not applicable to other organization types e.g. sources belonging to the private sector such as corporate charity arms or foundations, for-profit recruitment firms and consultancies
Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement
Includes IFRC, ICRC and national Red Cross/Crescent societies

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