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Donors giving more but needs are greater than ever

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched operations in May 2014 to transfer thousands of Central African Republic refugees from border transit camps into sites set up within villages in eastern Cameroon Otto Bakano/IRIN
The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) launched operations in May 2014 to transfer thousands of Central African Republic refugees from border transit camps into sites set up within villages in eastern Cameroon
Humanitarian funding reached a record US$22 billion in 2013, yet almost a third of needs remained unmet, according to data recently released by the UK-based think tank Global Humanitarian Assistance Programme’s Development Initiatives.

“[2013] was quite an extraordinary year and very different and very much in contrast to previous years,” said Daniel Coppard, director of research and analysis at Development Initiatives.

In response to the unprecedented levels of humanitarian need - particularly in light of three major crises in Syria, the Central African Republic (CAR) and the Philippines - both governments and private donors stepped up their response efforts in 2013 with unprecedented levels of funding.

“One certainly hopes that this response by the international community last year isn’t a one off and that it continues and is sustained in the coming years,” Coppard told IRIN.

Government donors, who accounted for around three-quarters of total aid in 2013, gave an estimated $16.4 billion, up by one quarter in 2012. Private donors, including individuals, trusts, foundations and corporations, increased their contributions by 35 percent, to around $5.6 billion.

While this increase is good news, Coppard said it still is not good enough.

“There’s no room for complacency because still over a third of [humanitarian] needs aren’t being met,” he said. “And with Syria, in particular, it’s quite clear that demands are set to rise both this year, 2014, and beyond.”

Syria’s 2014 humanitarian appeal is 26 percent funded, CAR’s is 37 percent funded while the Philippines appeals are 53 percent funded, according to OCHA’s financial tracking service.

The UN coordinated appeals, for example, totalled $13.2 billion in 2013. As of June 2014, appeals had already exceeded this, reaching $16.9 billion. Coppard said this figure is expected to rise even higher by the end of the year, and will likely stay at comparable levels in the next few years.

Cyprien Fabre, head of the West Africa regional support office for the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO), said it is unrealistic to believe that all the needs everywhere will be covered by humanitarian funding if crises continue to multiply.

“The overall humanitarian community is really struggling in 2014 to fund all the action in relation with the humanitarian needs in West Africa,” he said. “Persistent and continually increasing food insecurity and malnutrition in the Sahel is challenged by large displacement-related needs, in Mali, Nigeria and CAR, and epidemics such as cholera and Ebola.”

Population growth alone will mean the number of food insecure and malnourished will grow across the region, year on year, say analysts.

While ECHO has once again secured large funds for West Africa - around 184.2 million euros ($250.6 million) so far this year - they are “reaching their limits” due to competing large-scale crises around the globe, such as South Sudan, Syria and now Iraq.

Coppard agreed that meeting ever-growing needs is not easy, but said that it is possible to fulfil those unmet demands, and one step forward is to provide donors with good evidence of needs.

“I think we need three things: First, improved assessments and understanding of how we measure needs and how we promote those needs. Second, we need increased participation from a variety of actors, and, finally, we need to hold all donors accountable to addressing these internationals challenges.”

He said it was also important to understand why different crises are being met to varying degrees.

In Mauritania, for example, 83 percent of funding needs were met in 2013, while only 36 percent of appeals were funded for Djibouti.

“It’s partly political,” Coppard said, explaining that donors often have preferred countries they choose to work in and preferred types of crises they choose to respond to. “And it’s also partly, again, an issue of information and the quantity of information of what the needs actually are.”

Slower response for chronic crises

The type of crisis or disaster also affects how much of the funding appeal is met and how quickly it is met.

Donors respond much more quickly to sudden onset disasters, such as hurricanes, than they do to complex or slow-onset crises, such as drought or conflict.

In CAR, for example, it took 10 months from the launch of the appeal to reach just 50 percent of total required funds. This is compared to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, when donors fulfilled half the appeal after just one month.

“There’s no room for complacency because still over a third of [humanitarian] needs aren’t being met,” he said. “And with Syria, in particular, it’s quite clear that demands are set to rise both this year, 2014, and beyond.”
While ongoing crises may sometimes have a lower proportion of their needs met, they do account for the majority of humanitarian assistance each year. In 2012, Development Initiatives found that around two-thirds of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OEDC) Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) total funding went to ongoing crises.

In order to maximize the impact of all humanitarian aid, Coppard said it must be understood how the donor funds are used in conjunction with a country’s other resources. According to Development Initiatives, humanitarian assistance accounts for just about 1 percent of overall national and international resources that a country receives.

“So one really needs to conceptualize what role humanitarian assistance plays and to understand how that sits within a wider financial picture… because even though humanitarian assistance is a very small percentage [of total incoming resources], it clearly still plays a very important role.”

ECHO’s Fabre said that until funding needs can be met, it is important to focus on a strategy of resilience, particularly in the Sahel, where needs are only going to continue to increase.

“The resilience agenda is a way to bring back governments and their development partners into the driving seat, but with the most vulnerable population as a primary target,” he said. “Only this difference in focus will make possible that a country’s development… is translated into a better life for the population.”

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