Image by Adam Patterson/Panos/DFID
  • Background paper
  • 10 March 2020

Multi-year humanitarian funding: Global baselines and trends: Chapter 2

Donor contributions


Figure 1: Reported donor contributions of multi-year humanitarian funding grow to more than a third of all funding

Figure 1: Reported donor contributions of multi-year humanitarian funding grow to more than a third of all funding

Reported donor contributions of multi-year humanitarian funding grew from 29% as a percentage of total funding in 2016 to 36% in 2018.

Source: Development Initiatives (DI) based on data provided bilaterally and from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI). Data was collected between April and August 2019.

Notes: The dataset shown in the chart covers 11 institutional donors that are Grand Bargain signatories and reported to our survey. Between 2016 and 2018, these 11 donors provided 77% of total humanitarian assistance. Multi-year funding also refers to funding agreements ranging between 12 and 24 months when defined as multi-year by the donor. Data from the UK Department for International Development (DFID) was collected from IATI and includes some technical operation costs. Data is in constant 2017 prices.

Data collected directly from donors shows that the volume of humanitarian funding they provide and identify as “multi-year” has grown year-on-year, both by volume and as a proportion of their total humanitarian contributions since 2016. In the absence of a commonly agreed and used definition of multi-year funding, the analysis examines funding identified as “multi-year” and “humanitarian” by donors (See Appendix 1 – Methodology). In the section called ‘Duration of humanitarian funding from donors’, we provide analysis of the duration of these reported multi-year allocations.

  • Reported volumes of multi-year humanitarian contributions increased by 75%, from US$2.7 billion in 2016 to US$4.8 billion in 2018, according to data from 11 Grand Bargain member states. Over the three years, these donors contributed an average of 77% of total international humanitarian assistance from public donors. Since 2016, their humanitarian contributions have increased by 41%, from US$9.4 billion to US$13.3 billion in 2018.
  • The rate of growth of these donors’ multi-year humanitarian funding has fluctuated. Between 2016 and 2017, the volume of multi-year funding increased by 54%, while from 2017 to 2018 it rose by 14%. Similarly, while donor contributions grew in aggregate between 2016 to 2018, volumes of multi-year funding from individual donors fluctuated over this period.
  • Between 2016 and 2018, multi-year humanitarian funding from these 11 donors grew as a proportion of the total international humanitarian assistance they provided. Multi-year humanitarian contributions as a proportion of total contributions grew from 29% in 2016 to 36% in 2018.

The growth in multi-year contributions evident in the donor reports of multi-year humanitarian funding was felt, by both donor and aid organisation interviewees, to have been in part enabled by the Grand Bargain process. It was acknowledged that the Grand Bargain process had helped to build momentum and encourage a higher volume of multi-year contributions. However, progress varied significantly between donors. Some donors were already allocating multi-year grants and continued to do so, albeit more purposefully. Others have budgetary constraints that preclude them from expanding their multi-year portfolios.

Where progress has been observed, different factors have driven it. In some cases, progress was reportedly made more by chance than design. Donors reported that in-house efficiencies in terms of managing grants often generated some of the immediate transitions to multi-year approaches. As internal allocation procedures can be lengthy, shifting from annual allocations to longer-term investments can lead to efficiency gains. However, shifts to longer-term funding are balanced against the desire to retain flexibility to direct resources when needs change.

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The scope and limits of the multi-year commitment

At its core, the multi-year Grand Bargain commitment focuses on responsive humanitarian action. It sets out two separate expectations for multi-year planning and funding: firstly, that it better aligns humanitarian and non-humanitarian programmes, and secondly, that the benefits of multi-year funding are experienced throughout the implementation chain. While these expectations may be shared across Grand Bargain signatories, it remains unclear how they can simultaneously be achieved. They have proven complex as standalone goals, and the interplay between them may hinder combined progress. Four key issues emerged from interviews with donors and aid organisations relating to the scope and limits of multi-year humanitarian funding.

First, by far the largest tension remains in balancing the decision to respond to current unmet needs versus future anticipated ones. Humanitarian response is historically post-factum. A shift from a more immediately reactive approach to a more proactive one, which in part seeks to better address longer-term needs, is bound to intersect with non-humanitarian activities. How far beyond the immediate humanitarian remit multi-year approaches can reach will be defined by a prudent balancing act. In addition, donors’ own structures have implications for the types of grants they can award. For many, their humanitarian departments have the mandate to respond to immediate need and have therefore historically provided short-term funding. This can prevent the alignment of immediate humanitarian outcomes with longer-term development outcomes, due to a lack of clarity as to who holds internal responsibility for addressing longer-term needs in crisis settings. Some donors noted that they are seeking internal synergies to address this. However, aligning priorities driven by immediate need with the commitment to pursue longer-term outcomes remains an outstanding challenge.

From an aid organisation perspective, multi-mandate organisations reported that multi-year humanitarian funding has increasingly supported the alignment of their humanitarian and non-humanitarian programmes (stabilisation, recovery, migration or broader development). For such organisations, strategies at both institutional and country levels will span multiple years and may already include humanitarian and non-humanitarian outcomes. The receipt of multi-year humanitarian funding is reported to enable greater adaptability in the delivery of such strategies and to assist in achieving humanitarian and non-humanitarian outcomes.

Second, humanitarian organisations reported new initiatives through which they have explored links with non-humanitarian organisations. There is a perception that cross-mandate partnerships may tap into already finite humanitarian resources. However, new partnerships may not require humanitarian funds, as is reportedly the case in Jordan and Lebanon, where organisations work with the World Bank to support national governments, or in Syria, where organisations work with the Islamic Development Bank and UN Development Programme.

Third, certain sectors require continuous and long-term investments. Donors and aid organisations agree that investments in certain areas should be sustained beyond annual funding cycles. Such areas may be clusters in their own right, such as protection or education, or cross-cutting sectors, such as gender or the environment. In such instances, predictable, multi-year funding can support responses that take a longer-term view and can better achieve intended outcomes. However, very little sector-specific data was available in relation to multi-year funding and this is an area that requires further analysis.

Finally, it was reported that multi-year UN-coordinated plans have enabled aid organisations to align their own strategies to these overarching plans. However, these multi-year plans are not in place in all protracted crises, and the absence of country-wide multi-year frameworks can prevent the deeper coordination of responses.