Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2020

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The Covid-19 pandemic presents an unprecedented challenge to the humanitarian system in both scale and complexity, new research shows.

Development Initiatives’ 2020 Global Humanitarian Assistance report reveals that in 2019 over one billion people were living in countries affected by long-term humanitarian crises such as conflict, displacement and natural disasters. In the same period international UN appeals hit a record high but international humanitarian funding dropped by $1.6 billion.

Covid-19 is compounding these existing humanitarian challenges: 34 of the 63 countries that require humanitarian assistance to deal with the pandemic are in long-term humanitarian crisis.
Despite these growing humanitarian needs, the harsh reality is that with the global economy under significant strain and donor governments facing increasing domestic costs, global aid is projected to decline further and faster.

“We’re seeing a perfect storm gathering. Conflict, displacement and natural disasters affect millions of people each year and UN appeals remain consistently underfunded,” said Angus Urquhart, co-author of the report. “Our research shows that total levels of international humanitarian assistance dropped in 2019, for the first time in seven years, yet humanitarian needs are higher than ever. The global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic is both increasing the demands made on governments and institutions while simultaneously eroding their capacity to respond to people in crisis.”

The scale and nature of these humanitarian challenges has resulted in UN appeals calling for 25% more funding by June 2020 than by same time last year. This means that despite the funding for UN appeals being $0.6 billion greater than by the same point last year, the proportion of appeals met is lower at 20% compared to 23%.

Amanda Thomas, Senior Policy and Engagement Advisor at Development Initiatives said: “While the initial funding response to the Covid-19 pandemic has been strong, the real challenge will be sustaining these funding levels while continuing to provide assistance to the millions of people already affected by conflict, displacement and natural disasters. Without urgent action to meet these humanitarian needs, it’s likely that we’ll see years of development progress undone, with poorer communities bearing the brunt of future crises.”

Key findings:

● In 2019 global humanitarian aid dropped for the first time since 2012, from $31.2 billion to $29.6 billion. Reduced support from governments and EU institutions contributed to this 5% drop on 2018 levels.

● United Nations appeals hit $30.4 billion in 2019. Funding committed rose to $19.3 billion, but more than a third of appeal requirements were unmet.

● Over one billion people are now living in countries affected by long-term humanitarian crises – these countries are home to half of the world’s people living in poverty. The number of countries experiencing protracted crises (5 or more years of UN appeals) has more than doubled over the last 15 years, from 13 to 31.

● Over half of countries that require humanitarian assistance to deal with the pandemic are experiencing another long-term humanitarian crisis. The United Nations’ Global Humanitarian Response Plan (GHRP) sets out the funding requirements for the 63 countries identified as being in need of humanitarian assistance as a result of Covid-19. The report shows that more than half of these countries (34 of 63) are experiencing protracted crises, along with the broader ongoing socioeconomic, capacity and resilience challenges that these crises entail.

● United Nations appeal requirements reached a record high of $37.4 billion in June 2020 – 25% higher than at the same time last year.

For further information and to arrange interviews please contact Charlie Zajicek on +44 7592 034 721 / or Anna Hope on +44 7545 668 378 /

Notes to editors

  1. Development Initiatives (DI) is an international development organisation that focuses on putting data-driven decision-making at the heart of poverty eradication. Our vision is a world without poverty that invests in human security and where everyone shares the benefits of opportunity and growth. We provide rigorous information to support better decisions, influence policy outcomes, increase accountability and strengthen the use of data to eradicate poverty.

  2. The Global Humanitarian Assistance report 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). It is an annual report providing a concise overview of the humanitarian financing landscape in 2019, alongside analysis of emerging trends and issues in relation to Covid-19.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. UN coordinated appeals are set to rise again in July 2020 to a total of ~US$40 billion.
    This would be the highest ever annual rise in volume and highest total amount requested via UN appeals.