The scale of humanitarian crises and needs in 2013 was extraordinary, as was the level of international humanitarian response, which rose to a record US$22 billion.
This is a stark change from 2012, which saw no major new disasters and a slight decline in funding.
Millions of people were affected by three very different major crises – in Central African Republic (CAR), the Philippines and Syria – each designated as the highest level of emergency (Level 3) by the UN. Individually and combined, these placed unique demands on humanitarian responders and donors. Elsewhere, both on and off the international radar, many more people were caught in lower profile crises including in the Sahel, South Sudan and Yemen. Globally, the number of internally displaced people reached an unprecedented 33.3 million, while the number of refugees increased to 16.7 million.
Both public and private sources of funding increased in 2013, in contrast to the two previous years when both declined. Government donors accounted for three-quarters of the international response, contributing US$16.4 billion. This amounted to a 24% rise from 2012 levels, with nine of the ten largest government donors increasing their funding.
The role of governments outside the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) has continued to rise, with this group contributing US$2.3 billion in humanitarian assistance in 2013. This was 58% more than in 2012 and represented 14% of the total from all government donors – double the proportion represented by these donors in 2011.
Funding from private sources, including individuals, trusts, foundations and corporations, also rose steeply – a 35% increase from 2012 levels to reach an estimated US$5.6 billion in 2013. Over the past five years, assistance from these sources has accounted for more than one-quarter (26%) of the total international humanitarian response.
As a barometer of global humanitarian need, UN-coordinated appeals targeted 78 million people for assistance in 2013 and called for US$13.2 billion in funding.
Needs are continuing to rise: at the end of July 2014, UN-coordinated appeal requests totalled a record US$16.9 billion – the highest level of requests ever.
US$6.0 billion of this was requested for the Syria crisis response alone. Overall, the 2013 appeals were 65% funded. This was the highest proportion since 2009 yet it still left over one-third of identified needs unmet.
Almost one-quarter of international humanitarian assistance (24%) went to just five countries in 2012 (the latest year for which comprehensive recipient data is available). Even before the 2013 escalation in the crisis, Syria received by far the largest volumes of humanitarian assistance: in 2012 it received US$1.5 billion – almost double the US$865 million for South Sudan, the next largest recipient.
Funding priorities, political factors and public profile create an uneven global distribution of assistance, which could be addressed by a better division of labour. Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and the West Bank & Gaza Strip have consistently appeared in the top 10 recipients list over the past five years.
Conversely, many crises, including Nepal, Myanmar and Algeria, have tended to remain deprioritised. In 2013 Mauritania’s appeal was 83% funded, compared with Djibouti’s, which was 36% funded.
Funding through pooled funds was on the rise in 2013, accounting for 4.7% of the international humanitarian response – over US$1 billion. Despite the widely recognised importance of national and local NGOs in humanitarian preparedness and response, they only directly accessed US$49 million of international humanitarian assistance in 2013, a decrease of US$2 million from 2012.
However, it remains impossible to trace transactions all the way through the system to know how much these NGOs - or any other implementing partners – actually received indirectly via international agencies. If all actors reported their financial flows in a standardised format, such as to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) standard, project-level data could be geocoded and resources could be traced all the way from the donor to the recipient.
Timely response is critical for effective humanitarian action but, even for acute crises triggered by sudden natural disasters, the time it takes for donors to respond at scale can vary enormously. The response to the UN-coordinated Typhoon Haiyan appeal during the first month, for example, was half that of the Indian Ocean earthquake-tsunami appeal in 2005 in terms of needs met. And conflict-related and complex crises see an even slower response: the South Sudan, Syria, CAR and Yemen appeals remained more than 50% unfunded six months after they were launched.
While quick or early response is crucial, humanitarian assistance tends not to be limited to a short emergency phase. Protracted crises continued to capture the bulk of official humanitarian assistance – 66% in 2012 – highlighting the need for both multi-year funding and better links with development spending and other resources.
In most countries, the domestic response to crises goes unreported to international systems. As a result, there is no reliable global figure for this critical and primary response. However, national budgets show that between 2009 and 2012, India’s domestic government resources for disaster relief and risk reduction amounted to US$7 billion, compared to the US$137 million it received in international humanitarian assistance. The government of the Philippines has similarly and consistently eclipsed international contributions and, in response to Typhoon Haiyan, also demonstrated the primary coordinating role a domestic government can play in disaster relief.
With domestic government expenditure across developing countries now exceeding US$6 trillion a year, these resources can support people’s long-term resilience to shocks. But for many countries, particularly those facing entrenched crises, per capita spending by the national government remains low with little prospect of growth. There were an estimated 179.5 million people living in extreme poverty in countries classified as receiving long-term humanitarian assistance in 2012. Almost 40% of long-term humanitarian assistance went to countries with government expenditure of less than US$500 per person per year – one quarter of the developing country average.
Where governments lack the capacity or the will to address the risks and needs faced by the most vulnerable people, international resources continue to play an important role. As part of this, humanitarian assistance retains a critical and unique function to provide a principled response to crisis-affected populations. It represented around 1% of the combined domestic and international resources of its top 20 recipients in 2012, but a much higher proportion in certain countries.
However, those worst affected by humanitarian crises are also the most vulnerable: people facing poverty, insecurity and marginalisation. This means it is vital that all resources – public, private, domestic and international – are used coherently. Official development assistance (ODA) represents double the proportion of international resources available in the top humanitarian recipients than in other developing countries. Peacekeeping is seven times the proportion.
The mix and importance of international resources varies enormously between countries. Remittances constitute 21% of international resources for the largest humanitarian recipients – but in Pakistan, they account for 66%.
Better data is needed to understand the overall resource mix as well as people’s multi-dimensional needs. There has been innovation and progress in these areas over recent years, with many new needs assessment and aid transparency initiatives. Challenges remain in continuing to adapt and implement these – to inform resourcing and improve the lives of crisis-affected people, in the short and the long-term.