Mind the humanitarian funding gap

14 August 2015

by Jenny Humphreys - BAAG Programme & Communications Coordinator

In the run-up to World Humanitarian Day 2015, Bond and a number of its members are raising awareness of some of the biggest challenges posed by today’s humanitarian crises, which were highlighted in the recent State of the World’s Emergencies Report.

This post focuses on funding gaps. Over the past ten years donations to international humanitarian appeals have risen by 600%, from $3 billion in 2004 to $17.9 billion in 2014. However, although donor pledges have risen, they have not kept pace with rapidly rising needs. Future humanitarian funding must be increased to meet growing global needs.

BAAG's own Jenny Humphreys discusses how gaps in humanitarian funding are risking Afghan lives.


Humanitarian funding is under scrutiny this year – global initiatives and high-profile events, including the recent Financing for Development Conference and the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit, are shining a spotlight on funding levels, mechanisms and approaches. And research is confirming concerns that, due to insufficient funding, increasing humanitarian needs are not being met.

The 2015 Global Humanitarian Assistance report by Development Initiatives presents stark statistics about last year’s humanitarian situation. In 2014, 10.7 million more people were affected by natural disasters than during the previous year. Alongside that, conflict and persecution drove an unprecedented 59.5 million people from their homes – the highest level of displacement ever reported by the UN Refugee Agency. More people than ever are in need of humanitarian support.

Yet, despite increasing amounts of funding – US$24.5 billion in contributions, up 19% on 2013 figures – the gap is widening. The largest funding mechanism, the UN-coordinated appeals, demonstrates this: UN agencies and their NGO implementing partners appealed for a total of $19.5 billion to meet humanitarian needs across the globe – but only $12 million was provided, resulting in the highest deficit (38%) to date.

Afghanistan provides an interesting insight into the issue.  Despite being within the top ten recipients of international funding for ten years, the 2014 UN appeal figures showed that 31% of the $406 million needed was not raised. In a country where 11.7 million people struggled with issues such as severe food shortages, acute child malnutrition and insufficient shelter, many of their basic humanitarian needs were not met.

The funding requirements for the Afghan emergency have never been fully met and funding levels have fluctuated widely. They went from a high of $1.15 billion in 2002 to a low of $320 million in 2005. With donor policies shifting towards reconstruction and stabilisation in 2002, Afghanistan was prematurely declared to be in a ‘post-conflict’ state, and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) was closed down. The resulting low priority and visibility of humanitarian needs contributed to years of low funding.

The situation only changed in 2008 when a combination of increasing insecurity, natural disasters and the global food crisis resulted in international donors’ recognising and responding to Afghanistan’s consistently high humanitarian needs. However, the withdrawal of all foreign combat troops from Afghanistan in December 2014 is likely to result in a consequent decrease in humanitarian funding from those donor countries which had previously supplied troops.

Another aspect of Afghanistan’s funding problem is that some donor countries have focused their humanitarian funds on the areas where they have deployed their troops, which goes against the humanitarian principle of needs-based support.  If Helmand was a country, it would have been the fifth largest recipient of US development assistance in the world in 2007-2008.

And crisis response is just one element of addressing humanitarian need. Supporting communities to become more resilient to crises is also critical. But this requires more consistent funding, at predictable levels and for longer periods, to ensure the right staff, tools and training can be provided. When funding is reduced, or is short-term, organisations may have to lay off critical members of staff, which can result in loss of both historical expertise and the acceptance of the communities they work with, as well as increasing costs if their roles need to be recruited again. It goes against the grain of donor ‘value for money’.

Perhaps the biggest issue in both the Afghan and the global humanitarian contexts is the lack of support for local response. The Global Humanitarian Assistance report calculated that a mere 0.2% of the total funds available in 2014 was accessed by local and national actors, despite increasing calls from humanitarian experts to prioritise local responses, which are contextual, cost efficient and sustainable. 

These issues suggest that non-aid development needs to take a more central role - relying on international donors when crisis strikes is not a sustainable or appealing model. The rise of new funding streams, such as the private sector (as donors and responders alike) and the Islamic zakat model of charitable support, needs to be embraced. 


This blog has also been published on the Bond website, and can be viewed via this link