Humanitarian aid

"Succour" redirects here. For the album, see Succour (album).
Humanitarian aid arriving by C-130 Hercules at Rinas Airport in Albania in the summer of 2000. Many organizations engaged in assisting refugees fleeing Kosovo.
A soldier gives a young Pakistani girl a drink of water as they are airlifted from Muzaffarabad to Islamabad.

Humanitarian aid is material and logistic assistance to people in need. It is usually short-term help until the long-term help by government and other institutions replaces it. Among the people in need belong homeless, refugees, victims of natural disasters, wars and famines. The primary purpose of humanitarian aid is to save lives, reduce suffering and respect to human dignity. Humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance provided for humanitarian purposes, typically in response to humanitarian crises including natural disasters and man-made disaster. The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. It may therefore be distinguished from development aid, which seeks to address the underlying socioeconomic factors which may have led to a crisis or emergency.

According to The Overseas Development Institute, a London-based research establishment, whose findings were released in April 2009 in the paper 'Providing aid in insecure environments:2009 Update', the most lethal year in the history of humanitarianism was 2008, in which 122 aid workers were murdered and 260 assaulted. Those countries deemed least safe were Somalia and Afghanistan. In 2012, Humanitarian Outcomes reports that the countries with the highest incidents were: Afghanistan, South Sudan, Syria, Pakistan and Somalia.[1]



The beginnings of organized international humanitarian aid can be traced to the late 19th century. One of the first such examples occurred in response to the Northern Chinese Famine of 1876–1879, brought about by a drought that began in northern China in 1875 and lead to crop failures in the following years. As many as 10 million people may have died in the famine.[2]

A contemporary print showing the distribution of relief in Bellary, Madras Presidency. From the Illustrated London News (1877)

British missionary Timothy Richard first called international attention to the famine in Shandong in the summer of 1876 and appealed to the foreign community in Shanghai for money to help the victims. The Shandong Famine Relief Committee was soon established with the participation of diplomats, businessmen, and Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries.[3] To combat the famine, an international network was set up to solicit donations. These efforts brought in 204,000 silver taels, the equivalent of $7–10 million in 2012 silver prices.[4]

A simultaneous campaign was launched in response to the Great Famine of 1876–78 in India. Although the authorities have been criticized for their laissez-faire attitude during the famine, relief measures were introduced towards the end. A Famine Relief Fund was set up in the United Kingdom and had raised £426,000 within the first few months.


RAF C-130 airdropping food during 1985 famine

Early attempts were in private hands, and were limited in their financial and organizational capabilities. It was only in the 1980s, that global news coverage and celebrity endorsement were mobilized to galvanize large-scale government-led famine (and other forms of) relief in response to disasters around the world. The 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia caused upwards of 1 million deaths and was documented by a BBC news crew, with Michael Buerk describing "a biblical famine in the 20th Century" and "the closest thing to hell on Earth".[5]

Live Aid, a 1985 fund-raising effort headed by Bob Geldof induced millions of people in the West to donate money and to urge their governments to participate in the relief effort in Ethiopia. Some of the proceeds also went to the famine hit areas of Eritrea.[6]


The first global summit on humanitarian aid was held on May 23 and 24, 2016 in Istanbul, Turkey. An initiative of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the World Humanitarian Summit included participants from governments, civil society organizations, private organizations, and groups affected by humanitarian need. Issues that were discussed included: preventing and ending conflict, managing crises, and aid financing.


Aid is funded by donations from individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations. The funding and delivery of humanitarian aid is increasingly international, making it much faster, more responsive, and more effective in coping to major emergencies affecting large numbers of people (e.g. see Central Emergency Response Fund). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the international humanitarian response to a crisis or emergency pursuant to Resolution 46/182 of the United Nations General Assembly.

Delivery of humanitarian aid

Humanitarian aid spans a wide range of activities, including providing food aid, healthcare or protection. The majority of aid is provided in the form of in-kind goods or assistance, with cash and vouchers only comprising 6% of total humanitarian spending.[7] However, evidence has shown how cash transfers can be better for recipients as it gives them choice and control, they can be more cost-efficient and better for local markets and economies.[7]

Aid Workers

Aid Workers are the people distributed internationally to do humanitarian aid work. They often require humanitarian degrees, most are recruited by organizations such as Save the Children, Oxfam and RedR.


UNICEF humanitarian aid, ready for deploying. This can be food like Plumpy'nuts or water purification tablets.
Bangladeshi citizens offload food rations from a US Marine CH-46E helicopter of 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit after Tropical Cyclone Sidr in 2007

The total number of Humanitarian Aid workers around the world has been calculated by ALNAP, a network of agencies working in the Humanitarian System, as 210,800 in 2008. This is made up of roughly 50% from NGOs, 25% from the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement and 25% from the UN system.[8]

The humanitarian fieldworker population has increased by approximately 6% per year over the past 10 years.

Psychological Issues

Aid Workers are exposed to tough conditions and have to be flexible, resilient and responsible in an environment that humans are not psychologically supposed to deal with, in such a severity that trauma is common. In recent years, a number of concerns have been raised about the mental health of Aid Workers.[9][10]

The most prevalent issue faced by Humanitarian Aid Workers is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Adjustment to normal life again can be a problem, with feelings such as guilt being caused by the simple knowledge that international aid workers can leave a crisis zone, whilst nationals cannot.


During the past decade the humanitarian community has initiated a number of interagency initiatives to improve accountability, quality and performance in humanitarian action. Four of the most widely known initiatives are the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP), Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), People In Aid and the Sphere Project. Representatives of these initiatives began meeting together on a regular basis in 2003 in order to share common issues and harmonise activities where possible.

People In Aid

The People In Aid Code of Good Practice is an internationally recognised management tool that helps humanitarian aid and development agencies enhance the quality of their human resources management. As a management framework, it is also a part of agencies’ efforts to improve standards, accountability and transparency amid the challenges of disaster, conflict and poverty.[11]

Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International

Working with its partners, disaster survivors, and others, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (or HAP International) produced the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management. This certification scheme aims to provide assurance that certified agencies are managing the quality of their humanitarian actions in accordance with the HAP standard.[12] In practical terms, a HAP certification (which is valid for three years) means providing external auditors with mission statements, accounts and control systems, giving greater transparency in operations and overall accountability.[13][14]

As described by HAP-International, the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management is a quality assurance tool. By evaluating an organisation's processes, policies and products with respect to six benchmarks setout in the Standard, the quality becomes measurable, and accountability in its humanitarian work increases.

Agencies that comply with the Standard:

The Sphere Project

The Sphere Project handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, which was produced by a coalition of leading non governmental humanitarian agencies, lists the following principles of humanitarian action:

The Quality Project, based on The Quality COMPAS tool, is an alternative project to Sphere, taking into account the side effects of standardisation and those of an approach based on "minima" rather than the pursuit of quality. This project is led by Groupe URD.

See also



  1. "Highest incident contexts (2012 - 2012)". Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  2. Edgerton-Tarpley, Kathryn, "Pictures to Draw Tears from Iron", accessed 25 Dec 2013
  3. Janku, Andrea (2001) "The North-China Famine of 1876-1879: Performance and Impact of a Non-Event." In: Measuring Historical Heat: Event, Performance, and Impact in China and the West. Symposium in Honour of Rudolf G. Wagner on His 60th Birthday. Heidelberg, November 3rd - 4th, pp. 127-134
  4. China Famine Relief Fund Shanghai Committee, pp. 1, 88, 128, 157, "Epidemic Chinese Famine", accessed 6 Dec 2012
  5. Dowden, Richard (17 March 2010). "'Get real, Bob - buying guns might have been better than buying food': After Geldof's angry outburst, an expert on Africa hits back". Mail Online. London. Retrieved 18 June 2010.
  6. "In 1984 Eritrea was part of Ethiopia, where some of the song's proceeds were spent". Archived from the original on 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
  7. 1 2 [High Level Panel on Humanitarian Cash Transfers Doing cash differently: how cash transfers can transform humanitarian aid]
  8. State of the Humanitarian System report, ALNAP, 2010, pg. 18
  9. "The university course giving aid to aid workers". BBC News. Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  10. "BBC News - Health - Aid workers lack psychological support". Retrieved 11 December 2015.
  11. - Background to the People In Aid Code of Good Practice
  12. - A Gateway for Capacity Development
  13. The Economist - Certifying Aid Agencies, 24 May 2007
  14. Reuters Alernet Website - Can a certificate make aid agencies better listeners? 6 June 2008
  15. HAP-International Website - The HAP 2007 Standard


Critiques of humanitarian aid

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