The global capacity to meet humanitarian needs is being stretched. Millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa are living with conflict and its legacy; natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan have the power to disrupt and sometimes even paralyse economic and social infrastructure; recovery and reconstruction remain uneven following large-scale conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan; and political turmoil is escalating in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. In many instances the people already affected by crises face additional threats, their livelihoods made more insecure by the effects of climate change and the vagaries of the global economy.
The international humanitarian response to these needs reached US$16.7 billion in 2010. If this preliminary, partial estimate proves to be accurate when full final data is available, it will have been the largest annual humanitarian response on record – higher even than in 2005, the year of the Indian Ocean earthquake/tsunami and the South Asia (Kashmir) earthquake. However, while the contributions of governments outside of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) and those of the private sector increased dramatically in 2010, it is not clear whether these actors will become regular donors in years when there are no major natural disasters.
The overall humanitarian expenditure of OECD DAC member governments – the major contributors to ongoing crises – is also estimated to have increased in 2010. But this is underpinned by substantial increases by just three donors: the United States (US$430 million), Japan (US$275 million) and Canada (US$129 million). While the overall international response to humanitarian crises shows an upward trend, many donors are coming under pressure to justify existing levels of aid spending. Eight OECD DAC members look set to reduce their levels of expenditure for the third consecutive year in 2010.
In a global context of rising demand, escalating costs and budgetary constraints, the need to target humanitarian financing effectively and equitably is ever more compelling. In 2010, the level of needs that were unmet in the UN’s consolidated appeals process (CAP) rose to 37% (US$4.2 billion), compared with an average of 30.2% in the five preceding years. Moreover, humanitarian funding seems to have been more unevenly distributed across crises in 2010, with complex emergencies in many cases receiving a lower proportion of their funding requirements.
The effective targeting of humanitarian financing must include the effective coordination of all resources to address vulnerability to crises – while it remains important for humanitarian aid to be independent, neutral and based on need alone, it does not exist in a vacuum. Does it make sense for humanitarian assistance, which in many cases is being spent year on year in the same places, to be looked at in isolation from other types of potential funding?
To read about our partners’ opinions on GHA Report 2011, see blogs from John Mitchell (Director of ALNAP), Philip Tamminga (Head of the Humanitarian Response Index at DARA) and Tim Large (Editor-in-Chief at AlertNet, Thomson Reuters Foundation).