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Field perspectives on multi-year humanitarian funding and planning: How theory has translated into practice in Jordan and Lebanon: Chapter 2

Multi-year humanitarian funding and planning in Lebanon and Jordan


This chapter outlines how MYHFP is perceived in both countries. After a brief description of the two country contexts it explores how MYHF is defined and to what extent it exists in both countries, at both first and subsequent levels of funding. This is followed by a synthesis of views on synergies between flexible and predictable funding, before finally exploring how the time frame of funding links with that of programming.

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Context of the responses in Jordan and Lebanon

The relatively stable crises in Jordan and Lebanon, with consistently high levels of need and a continued influx of humanitarian assistance, are suitable contexts for MYHFP.

Both country contexts have experienced a large influx of Syrian refugees since the escalation of the Syria crisis in 2012. The numbers of registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon between 2013 and 2019 were consistently between around 900,000 and 1,100,000 people, and for Jordan consistently between around 600,000 and 700,000 over the same time period. These numbers exclude unregistered Syrian refugees and are in addition to significant numbers of Palestinian refugees in both countries and Iraqi refugees in Jordan. The crisis response plans in both countries also target large numbers of impacted and vulnerable host communities; in 2019 these were 1,005,000 people in Lebanon and 520,000 people in Jordan (3RP, 2019).

Total international humanitarian assistance to both countries since 2013 has remained high, though since 2016 it has been steadily decreasing (Figure 1). Humanitarian funding to Jordan, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service (FTS), reduced from US$959 million in 2013 to US$679 million in 2018. Between 2013 and 2016 it was consistently above US$900 million. Lebanon in turn received US$1,045 million in 2013, increasing to US$1,303 million in 2015 before falling for the first time in six years below US$1,000 million in 2018 (US$973 million).

Given the protracted nature of crises in Jordan and Lebanon, both have multi-year strategic crisis response plans. They are part of the Syria Regional Refugee and Resilience Plan (3RP), which has a rolling two-year time frame. Individually, they each have a country-specific crisis response plan jointly designed by the respective governments and humanitarian agencies. Those both also have a multi-year time frame, the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan (LCRP) from 2017 to 2020 (Government of Lebanon and UN, 2019) and the Jordan Response Plan from 2017 to 2019 (MOPIC, 2018).

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Figure 1: Humanitarian assistance to Jordan and Lebanon as reported to UN OCHA FTS, 2012–2019

Figure 1: Humanitarian assistance to Jordan and Lebanon as reported to UN OCHA FTS, 2012–2019

Total humanitarian assistance to Jordan increased sharply between 2011 and 2013 to a peak of 959 million US dollars and remained over 900 million US dollars for four years. After 2016, it then gradually decreased to 335 million US dollars in 2019 as of the 9th September that year. Over the same period, total humanitarian assistance to Lebanon increased to a peak of 1,303 million US dollars in 2015, then decreased to 453 million US dollars in 2019 as of the 9th September that year.

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS data, downloaded 9 September 2019.

Notes: Data in the chart includes commitments that are legally binding funding obligations and disbursements. Funding data for 2019 is preliminary and therefore shaded lightly in the graph.

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Field definitions of MYHF

There was no commonly agreed definition of MYHF in relation to duration or conditions of contracts, though areas of consensus on what this might entail were evident.

The absence of this definition makes analysis of the scale and impact of MYHF challenging. The variety of understandings from actors in Jordan and Lebanon of what MYHF entails, especially in terms of its time frame, reflects the absence of a shared definition at the global level (Development Initiatives, 2019). This variety exists in both countries, within and between all interviewed stakeholder groups (donors, UN, NGOs).

The time span of what both donors and implementers perceive as MYHF ranges between longer than twelve months to at least three years. Of the 30 interviewed organisations, 25 specified a time frame of a minimum of either 12 or 24 months, evenly split between the two. Some organisations in the latter group cited the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) definition of MYHF (OECD, 2017) as a point of reference.[1] Five multi-mandated organisations, including all three national actors that were interviewed, considered funding with a time span of at least three years to be multi-year.

There was agreement across all interviewees on two points. Firstly, these definitions would only count funding that is tied to legally binding agreements, and thereby exclude informal commitments. This is not to say that there are no other ways of providing predictable funding (e.g. through donor support groups or other strategic, long-term partnerships between individual donors and implementers), but they are regarded as separate from MYHF. Secondly, there was a consensus that the time frame of consideration would be that at the outset of the funding agreement. Funding that is extended to become multi-year is not included, given these extensions usually come at short notice and therefore do not allow for longer term planning or funding predictability from the outset.

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Recommendation 1

Develop a globally shared definition within the Grand Bargain workstream on enhanced quality of funding of what constitutes MYHF. This should be informed and endorsed by humanitarian country teams. While a common interagency definition should not limit agencies in maintaining their own, context-specific understandings, it would enable MYHF tracking at the global and country level and provide a shared point of reference for both donors and implementers.

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Proportions of first-level MYHF in Jordan and Lebanon

In both countries there was a wide variation in the extent to which donors’ and implementers’ country portfolios were multi-year funded. There was also a shared sense across all stakeholders that at the system level the proportion of MYHF was not significant enough to transform the humanitarian response.

Before delving into the detail of the distribution of MYHF in both countries, it is crucial to note the protracted and relatively stable nature of the crisis contexts. This means that lines between the humanitarian and development response, and thereby also funding, are increasingly unclear and sometimes not helpful. Both donors and implementers reported that the same activities might be framed interchangeably to have a humanitarian or development focus. The same ambiguity will therefore apply to actors reporting their respective proportions of MYHF, depending on their mandate and how narrow the respective definition of humanitarian is.

With that in mind, there is reportedly a large range of how much MYHF individual donors provide in both countries. Of the interviewed group, two donors – Canada and Australia – launched multi-year response strategies for the regional Syria response,[2] and the funding provided had the same multi-annual time frame. Two additional donors – the UK and the German Federal Foreign Office – have reportedly been almost exclusively providing humanitarian funding as multi-year in both Jordan and Lebanon, based on the relatively stable context and feedback from their implementing partners. An additional two donors provide between 20% and 30%, and the remaining three having been largely unable to provide funding beyond annual cycles due to restrictions with budgetary approval processes. Interestingly, one of these three donors noted that, while the humanitarian department is largely unable to provide multi-year funding at the country level, the development counterpart routinely does, despite being subject to the same budgetary processes. Another factor in deciding the time frame of funding provided, especially for donor agencies with a strictly humanitarian mandate, is therefore the notion that humanitarian assistance should only respond to immediate needs and be nimble if those were to change. In contexts such as Jordan and Lebanon there is a fear that funding with a purely humanitarian mandate might “disappear in the grey areas of the nexus” (quote from donor interview). This points to the need to clarify the role and expectations of MYHF in crisis contexts to ensure that humanitarian donors and implementers, and non-humanitarian actors, are on the same page.

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Recommendation 2

Donors routinely providing MYHF in certain contexts should share their lessons learned for both internal processes and external results. Sharing and learning can occur at both global and country levels. For donors that are largely unable to provide MYHF, it might point to ways this could be achieved, either through internal changes or by establishing external financial instruments with the ability and a clear mandate to provide MYHF.

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Figure 2: MYHF received by individual implementers in Jordan and Lebanon, 2016–2018

Figure 2: MYHF received by individual implementers in Jordan and Lebanon, 2016–2018

In 2016, the majority of individual implementers we consulted in Jordan and Lebanon received less than 10% of their overall funding as multi-year funding. In 2017, the results were less clear cut, with six receiving 50% to 70%, and seven others 0% to 30%. In 2018 more information was available; eight individual implementers in Jordan and Lebanon again received less than 10% of their overall funding as multi-year funding, nine between 10% and 50%, and four between 60% and 100%.

Source: Development Initiatives based on data collected bilaterally from implementing agencies through a quantitative survey and key informant interviews.

The proportion of MYHF in the implementers’ country portfolios also varied greatly. Figure 2 shows that since 2016 an increasing number of organisations receive a higher proportion of their humanitarian country portfolios in the form of MYHF. However, two-thirds of implementers in 2018 received 30% or less in MYHF with more than a third (38%) remaining between 0% and 10%.

This image of unstable progress in levels of MYHF since the Grand Bargain commitments in 2016 is reflected in the total volumes of funding available to the response (Figure 3). Large increases in the proportion of total MYHF in both countries from 2016 to 2017 were followed by a drop in 2018. The sense from the interviews was that this proportion will at best remain at this level but might even decrease. While some sources indicate overall volumes of humanitarian funding are also decreasing (Figure 1), the 2019 figures are to be treated with caution as additional funding and thereby reporting will occur towards the end of the year.[3]

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Figure 3: Volumes and proportion of total MYHF received by implementers in Jordan and Lebanon, 2016–2018

Figure 3: Volumes and proportion of total MYHF received by implementers in Jordan and Lebanon, 2016–2018

In Lebanon, multi-year funding as a percentage of total humanitarian funding to implementers that provided this data varied from 12% (2016), to 35% (2017), to 29% (2018). In Jordan, multi-year funding as a percentage of total humanitarian funding for implementers that provided this data varied from 10% (2016), to 15% (2017), to 7% (2018).

Source: Development Initiatives based on data collected bilaterally from implementing agencies through a quantitative survey.

Notes: The data captures what is considered as humanitarian and as multi or single year as per the definitions of the respective implementing organisations, which might differ from what donors consider as humanitarian or multi or single year. Data for Lebanon includes funding figures reported by eight implementing agencies, which on average represent 70% of the total humanitarian funding to the response as reported to the FTS. Data for Jordan in the graph is preliminary as it only includes funding figures reported by five implementing agencies, which on average represent 62% of the total humanitarian funding to the response as reported to the FTS.

Most actors across all stakeholder groups agreed that, on a systemic level, MYHF in both Jordan and Lebanon has not reached a critical mass to transform the humanitarian response. Reasons behind this are detailed below, and they explore the link between MYHF and programming. On an organisational level, most actors were unable to specify what amount of MYHF would be required to significantly change their operations. Some were, however, able to provide examples of how enough long-term funding can transform their programming, planning and fundraising (Box 1).

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Box 1

Tipping the scale of MYHF

An organisational example of leveraging a multi-year grant

An international NGO in Jordan that is part of the refugee response currently receives less than 5% of their country portfolio in the form of MYHF. However, it is in the process of finalising a multi-year grant for a livelihoods programme that would represent an additional 15% of the total humanitarian funding received. The Head of Programmes outlined how they plan to leverage this funding to transform programming and fundraising in Jordan:

  • Given its scale and being at the core of the NGO’s activities in-country, the programme will influence the entire planning process for activities in Jordan; it will be a fully funded core activity that other interventions can be built around. It will enable the development of a new country strategy linking livelihoods and protection that matches the three-year time frame of the project.
  • In terms of fundraising, there have been ongoing conversations with donors that are keen to provide longer term funding only if operational sustainability is not fully dependent on their contributions. This multi-year, fully funded project provides the NGO with a reference point for potential donors on where their contribution fits in.
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Recommendation 3

Implementers should build an evidence base of how existing MYHF, even if relatively small, improved their response, while specifying the potential gains to be unlocked by greater amounts. Throughout the research process there was a recurring ‘catch-22’ situation: donors stated that improvements through existing levels of MYHF are not clearly visible to them, with implementers responding that this is due to the small amounts provided. Incountry dialogue and evidence sharing by organisations receiving higher proportions of long-term funding on how it benefits their response might unlock more MYHF available to all actors. It could potentially lead to a virtuous cycle of collective learning resulting in a more sustainable and collaborative response.

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Extent of multi-year humanitarian sub-grants

The provision of MYHF beyond the first funding level by all international implementers, for example in the form of sub-grants, is reportedly much more limited.

Limited evidence of such multi-year sub-grants at the country level in Jordan and Lebanon mirrors the global picture (ODI, 2019; Development Initiatives, 2019). This, therefore, remains a key challenge to be overcome for the perceived benefits of MYHF to be realised for downstream partners.

Out of all the interviewed public donors, only one required its implementing partners to transfer the terms from the initial grant to all related sub-grants. Some other donors that provided MYHF in turn encouraged their implementing partners to also provide multi-year sub-grants, but they did not monitor whether this was the case. The remaining donors left the decision on which terms to apply to sub-grants entirely up to the implementing partner.

From the interviews with international implementers it became clear that it can by no means be an automatic process of receiving multi-year grants and passing them on as multi-year sub-grants. There are several preconditions to be met from their perspective to be able to provide multi-year sub-grants:

  • Income visibility must be given for the programme of the corresponding sub-grant. This is especially challenging for implementers funding their own programmes with multiple income streams that come with different time frames and levels of earmarking.
  • The sub-grantee must have the organisational capacity to absorb multi-year funding and to plan and implement operations over the longer term.
  • There are no restrictions on the original grant as to which types of organisations might receive sub-grants, or for how long.

The interviewed UN actors identified the first point as the biggest obstacle. Given that they often simultaneously implement and fundraise for the same programmes, their income is not predictable enough to provide budget visibility for their partners in subsequent years even though the cooperation might continue. There are some efforts underway to begin to improve this for partners. For instance, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is trialling in Lebanon multi-year agreements over two years with selected partners. Still, it remains challenging to provide full predictability of sub-grants; funding can only be committed annually as in the second year it is still conditional on UNHCR securing the required funds first.

There was a variation across NGOs on whether and how multi-year sub-grants are provided. Partnership-based organisations carefully screen their local and national partners and tend to fund their long-term cooperation by default. Other international NGOs referenced the three preconditions above as limiting their ability to provide long-term funding to downstream partners, while recognising that more could be done to enable this. One identified solution to the challenges of providing multi-year sub-grants is to apply for funding as a consortium. The consortium members would then share the terms of the grant as equal partners, including the time frame, thereby circumventing power imbalances between sub-grantee and grant holder. However, this solution might come with a risk for the consortium lead as legally responsible grant holder, that would have to deal with potential mismanagement by other consortium members to avoid being penalised. While this might address the issue of sharing the benefits of MYHF for individual grant agreements, it is unlikely to achieve this systemically. Given the most commonly cited obstacle to providing multi-year sub-grants was a lack of income visibility for the provider, a critical mass of MYHF at the first level of funding might be required to unlock multi-year sub-grants at scale.

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Recommendation 4

Large implementing agencies (notably the UN and international NGOs) should proactively seek to cascade more MYHF to partners, sharing learnings between agencies on what tools and mechanisms can best achieve this. At the same time, large agencies and donors need to engage in dialogue to identify what both parties need to do to enable income visibility over multiple years to facilitate greater pass-through of MYHF.

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Synergies with flexibility for MYHF

Donors and implementers in Jordan and Lebanon reinforced the need for MYHF to be flexible to unlock its potential to improve the response through low levels of earmarking or by allowing for adaptive programming. This is in line with an increasing body of evidence on the links between flexibility and predictability (NRC, FAO and OCHA, 2017; SIDA, 2018; UNICEF, 2018; Cabot Venton, 2013).

In both countries there has been an increase in levels of earmarking accompanying the increase in MYHF, matching global trends (Development Initiatives, 2019). Implementers noted that it is difficult to accept tightly earmarked MYHF, as it cannot be guaranteed that needs and contexts remain the same. For NGOs, given that grant agreements tend to be linked to the proposed programmes, the level of earmarking for MYHF is consequently high. Some exceptions with lower levels of earmarking are global framework agreements over multiple years that some NGOs have with individual donors, and appeals funded through private donations.

Interview respondents highlighted that the ability to move funds between budget lines, activities, geographical regions and years over the course of a grant agreement is another important aspect of flexibility. Interviewees across all stakeholder groups agreed that for MYHF it is indispensable to remain flexible in what the funding sets out to achieve should the context and therefore the appropriateness of the response change. Some of this flexibility might be relational, based on trust built over long-term partnerships, but its importance should be recognised from the outset. Maintaining this flexibility to respond adaptively might also diminish some donors’ concerns that funding committed for the longer term reduces their ability to reprioritise funding if needs change. However, while all donors providing MYHF recognised the need to allow for revisions based on changing needs or evidence of learning, agreeing to those changes was reported to sometimes be a lengthy process.

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Recommendation 5

Donors to foster the flexibility to adapt programming for more tightly earmarked MYHF, building on existing best practices of flexible funding. This might be achieved by establishing swift grant amendment processes, regular review processes or contingency funds in the form of crisis modifiers.

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Linking MYHF with strategic and programmatic planning

While all interviewed actors in both Jordan and Lebanon plan strategically for the longer term, the links between the time frame of funding and programming are more ambiguous. A better understanding of this link is necessary to be clear on how longer term funding can lead to more effective, longer term programming, as the perceived improvements in the response through the provision of MYHF (see below) often presume that it results in multi-year programmes.

In terms of multi-year planning, both countries benefit from a range of interagency multi-year strategic frameworks. For the humanitarian response there are the Lebanon Crisis Response Plan 2017–2020 (Government of Lebanon and UN, 2019) and the Jordan Response Plan (MOPIC, 2018), as well as multi-year development frameworks between the UN and the respective governments. All interviewees stated that their own strategic planning is in line with the relevant interagency frameworks. Internally, all donors and implementers devised their own funding and response strategies for multiple years considering the relatively stable contexts in both countries with a foreseeable minimum need.

The formulation of those strategies was rarely influenced by the time frame of funding provided or received. As mentioned above, Canada and Australia both matched their multi-year strategies in the region with funding for the same period. Most other donors use a mix of short- and long-term funding, or at most annual funding, to work towards independently formulated long-term goals. Most implementers also developed their strategies largely separately from the funding already secured. These would be informed by the mandate of the respective organisations and the current and anticipated levels of need. In two exceptional cases for NGOs, a single large-scale, multi-year grant would be significant enough to shape the country strategy.

In both countries it varied by organisation type and size of operations how closely the time frame of funding is linked to that of activities. To most consulted NGO representatives the time frame of the grant agreement usually determines the duration of the activity linked to the funding. This is due to high levels of earmarking and a small number of grants funding an activity. In the absence of multi-year funding, well established and international NGOs might have other ways of ensuring continuity of programmes through top-ups from their headquarters or flexible, private funding from appeals. This, however, comes with greater uncertainty of whether that funding might be available when needed.

UN representatives with large country operations indicated that for them the relationship between time frames of funding and the implemented activities is more complex. Single programmes are often of such a scale that individual grant contributions are not enough to fully fund them. Those programmes therefore must be funded by a mix of income streams with different levels of earmarking and time frames. This makes it very difficult to predict to what extent or how they might be funded in the following year. Still, UN agencies manage to combine funding streams to continue and improve the same programmes over multiple years. For instance, the systems and processes developed over multiple years for the provision of cash and voucher assistance (e.g. for the World Food Programme (WFP)’s general food assistance or UNHCR’s multipurpose cash programmes) reportedly result in a more efficient and effective response.[4] MYHF therefore facilitates the longer-term planning process by providing more budget visibility, but low levels of earmarking are at least equally important in providing the flexibility to plug gaps in funding wherever and whenever they might arise.

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Box 2

Political challenges to MYHFP

The effects of domestic and international politics on longer term planning

The uncertainty around how changes in the political climate or legislation might affect the ability to plan a longer term response was frequently raised by interviewees. Some noted that the implementation of more restrictive labour laws in Lebanon immediately affected livelihood programmes, and that the demolition of refugee shelters was a setback for the humanitarian response. This raised the question of the extent to which an integrated and sustainable refugee response with a longer view might be possible if there is a strong focus on returns and little interest in full socioeconomic integration.

While donors reportedly navigate these challenges in an ad hoc manner in their continued engagement with the domestic government, implementers pointed out that MYHFP gives them credibility in their engagement with the national authorities. It acts as a signal that their presence in the country is for the long term to address the same needs in the country as faced by the government. Uncertainty in the political context also reinforces the need for flexible (i.e. unearmarked or adaptive) funding to be able to quickly react to changing circumstances.

Interviewees also recognised that changing international politics might have adverse effects on the predictability of funding, with funding committed over multiple years providing more continuity even if donors’ priorities suddenly change.


  • 1

    In this document the OECD defines MYHF as “funding given over two or more years for humanitarian assistance, including funding for multilateral organisations, national disaster management agencies, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and local and international NGOs” (p. 1, OECD, 2017).

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  • 3

    For Jordan, unpublished tracking exercises indicate that the level of funding to the Jordan Response Plan will reach a similar level as in previous years.

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