This report outlines humanitarian needs over the past three years; provides an overview of the resources made available to address these needs; describes the current size and structure of the humanitarian system; and presents an assessment of the system’s performance in addressing humanitarian needs.
The State of the Humanitarian System project aims to provide a longitudinal assessment of the size, shape and performance of the humanitarian system. It reports every three years. This is the fourth report, covering the period 2015–17. It is based on the same broad structure, methodology and questions as the previous editions, to allow an assessment of progress over time.
Composition of the humanitarian system
In 2017, the total combined field personnel of the humanitarian sector numbered approximately 570,000. This represents an increase of 27% from the last SOHS report (450,000 in 2013). Growing numbers of national humanitarian workers appeared to drive this increase, while the number of international (expatriate) staff remained stable. On average across humanitarian organisations, this growth in personnel did not keep pace with the overall rise in operational expenditure.
The majority of funding continued to flow through UN agencies, with the World Food Programme (WFP), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) the three largest in terms of expenditure. Much of this funding was then passed on as grants to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). These three agencies were also among the largest in terms of staffing, although for the first time they were outstripped in staff numbers by an NGO (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)). As in 2015, UN agencies and NGOs spent similar amounts overall ($16 billion for the UN and $16.8 billion for NGOs). Expenditure by the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement fell in proportion to both UN organisations and NGOs as a result of reduced expenditure by National Societies. The concentration of funding flowing through a small number of international NGOs evident in previous editions of The State of the Humanitarian System continued, though it was less marked than in the past: in 2017, 23% of funding went through six large international NGOs, compared to 31% through five in the previous edition of the SOHS.