Image by EU/Dominique Catton
  • Report
  • 7 February 2019

Underfunded appeals: Understanding the consequences, improving the system

Examining the consequences of underfunding and how appeals requirements are out-pacing funding despite major increases in humanitarian assistance.


Sophia Swithern

UN-coordinated appeals are both the largest combined request for humanitarian aid, and a central pillar of the humanitarian response architecture. They bring together UN and non-governmental agencies to assess needs, develop strategic plans and present financial asks.

In 2017, these appeals set out a record total requirement of US$25.2 billion. This was nearly double that of five years previously, but the financial shortfall has grown at an even greater rate. At the end of 2018, the contribution gap for that year stood at a high of US$10.9 billion.

A new report seeks to examine what is known and unknown about the consequences of underfunding. The publication is underpinned by Development Initiatives’ (DI) data analysis and in-depth key informant interviews. DI Fellow Sophia Swithern, who authored the report, conducted interviews with humanitarian agencies and donors in Chad, Haiti and Somalia.

The report was published this week by the Swedish Expert Group for Aid Studies, and finds that:

  • Despite major increases in humanitarian assistance, appeals requirements are out-pacing funding. By the end of 2018 there was a record US$10.9 billion shortfall. But though we are familiar with the scale of underfunding, we know much less about its impacts.
  • Research into the appeals for Chad, Haiti and Somalia suggested that underfunding undermines the localisation, presence and effectiveness of response. For affected people, as well as having immediate effects, shortfalls can erode resilience, protection and security. However, these impacts are not systematically reported – the evidence is patchy, illustrative and ad hoc.
  • This knowledge gap about the realities of the funding shortfall has implications for improving the appeals system: for the way that the needs and requirements are calculated, that funding is tracked, and that the response is monitored and reported. To begin to fix the problem, improvements on the appeals-side must be met with improvements on the donors-side: more flexible funding and better coordination.

Read the full report on the Swedish Expert Group for Aid Studies website

Read the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2018

Read more about our work on humanitarian assistance and aid flows

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