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19 million more people in need of humanitarian aid as funding drops, world’s most comprehensive study reveals

News and Press Release
Originally published

International humanitarian spending by public donors dropped by $284 million between 2019 and 2020, with those in need growing by 19 million driven by Covid-19.

The UK Government cut funding by the most, $900 million, offsetting increases by others, such as $800 million in additional aid from Germany.

Covid-19 has strained the humanitarian and wider aid system. Now more than ever, governments should prioritise providing support to countries and people worst impacted by crisis.

Despite record need as a result of the pandemic, Development Initiatives’ Global Humanitarian Assistance Report has found that money spent by governments and EU institutions on global humanitarian aid dropped by $284 million (1.2%) between 2019 and 2020. The number of people in need of assistance rose by 19 million over the same period.

While the majority of donors increased their humanitarian spending in 2020, this was offset by cuts in funding by a few key donors including the UK, Saudi Arabia and UAE. Germany and the US increased funding by 27% and 6% respectively, but the UK Government cut total humanitarian funding by almost a third (31%), causing international humanitarian finance from governments to drop for the second year running.

"This data confirms what we feared – when the global crisis hit, key donors such as the UK turned inwards, and have left those most in need without vital support. More money is badly needed. Those who can help must step up, while the system that gets funding to those who are worst impacted by crisis needs urgent reform as we rebuild from the pandemic," said Angus Urquhart, Crisis and Humanitarian Lead at Development Initiatives.

The report reveals that Covid-specific humanitarian needs are woefully underfunded, with UN Covid appeals just 40% funded in 2020. At the same time the pandemic is diverting finance away from other urgent humanitarian needs, with the top 20 donors cutting $4.5 billion in non-Covid related humanitarian funding between 2019 and 2020. The shortfalls are impacting some of the world’s most vulnerable countries, which are also at the highest risk of the impacts of Covid-19.

Crises are becoming increasingly complex and drawn out, which is putting more stress on an already strained humanitarian sector. The data underlines the importance of development institutions like the World Bank in funding crisis responses. While finance from multilateral development banks doubled between 2014 and 2019 (from US$5.4 billion to over US$10.7 billion), the analysis makes clear that the way these funds are distributed is vitally important. The majority (86%) of this funding is now delivered in the form of loans, rather than grants. While access to loans can be a vitally important source of funding for countries recovering from crisis, the authors emphasise that increased proportions of lending could also push countries into debt distress.

Development Initiatives argues that governments can’t “build back better” from Covid-19 without aligning pandemic spending with consistent and effective humanitarian finance to countries in need.

Development Initiatives' Senior Policy and Engagement Advisor and co-author of the report, Fran Girling said, “As the rest of the world recovers from Covid-19, people living in crisis are being left behind. We can’t “build back better” without tackling extreme poverty, reducing inequality and supporting the people who need it most. Now more than ever, providing support to countries and people worst impacted by crisis has to be a priority for governments worldwide. Failing to act on this data means choosing to leave people behind and setting back global stability and prosperity.”


For further information, to request an advance copy of the report and to arrange interviews please contact Charlie Zajicek on +44 7592 034 721 / OR Kristiana Papi on kristiana.papi@digacommunications / +44 7572 382 252

Notes to editors

Development Initiatives (DI) is an international development organisation that applies the power of data and evidence to build sustainable solutions that create an equitable and resilient world. We work closely with partners to ensure data-driven evidence and analysis are used effectively in policy and practice to end poverty, reduce inequality and increase resilience.

The Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) Report provides a comprehensive, data-driven assessment of the global financing landscape for humanitarian response. Published every year, the GHA report is a leading independent go-to resource that highlights key issues and emerging trends that those working to improve the financing response to crisis need to know about. It uses the most recent figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee (OECD DAC) and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Financial Tracking Service (FTS).

International humanitarian assistance refers to the financial resources for humanitarian action spent outside the donor country. DI’s calculations of international humanitarian assistance are based on what donors and organisations report as such and do not include other types of financing to address the causes and impacts of crises.

There is no universal obligation or system for reporting expenditure on international humanitarian assistance. OECD DAC members must report their humanitarian assistance to the DAC systems as part of their official development assistance. Some other governments and most major multilateral organisations also voluntarily report to the DAC. The FTS is open to all humanitarian donors and implementing agencies to voluntarily report contributions of humanitarian assistance, according to an agreed set of criteria for inclusion.

There is no internationally agreed definition for ‘people in need of humanitarian assistance’. Development Initiatives defines this term as follows: ‘when a crisis causes a person to be unable to meet their basic needs and requires external assistance to be able to do so.’ This definition uses the following sources: ACAPS, Food and Agriculture Organization, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), INFORM Index for Risk Management, Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research and UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Financial Tracking Service data.

According to Development Initiatives' GHA Report, the countries with the highest numbers of people in need in 2020 were as follows (from Figure 1.3 in full report):

Number of people in need (millions)

Congo (the Democratic Republic of the)
Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of)
Syrian Arab Republic
Korea (the Democratic People's Republic of)
Sudan (the)