Conflict and contributions from Middle East propel humanitarian assistance to unprecedented levels, but UN coordinated appeals fall short by billions
Global humanitarian assistance rose to record levels in 2014, reflecting the scale and scope of prolonged crises such as the conflicts in Iraq and Syria as well as increased contributions from Middle Eastern donors, according to a study by the non-profit organisation Development Initiatives.
A report by the body’s Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) programme showed that humanitarian assistance rose to $24.5bn (£15.5bn) last year, an increase of 19% on 2013. Middle Eastern donors contributed nearly $1.7bn, a 120% increase on the previous year.
Needs continued to outstrip contributions, however. In its coordinated appeals, the UN fell $7.5bn short of the record $19.5bn it requested to help 87.5 million people. This meant 38% of requirements were not met, even though the world’s leading donors all gave more.
“In a year of global discussions on development and climate change, these unprecedented levels of need and continued shortfalls in funding highlight the need to sustainably address the underlying causes and long-term impacts of crisis,” said Sophia Swithern, head of the GHA programme.
Next month, the UN will hold its third international conference on financing for development in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Member states are expected to draw up concrete plans to finance the sustainable development goals, an ambitious agenda covering the next 15 years that is due to be ratified in New York this September.
“We see from the figures in the report that 93% of the world’s extreme poor are in countries that are politically fragile or environmentally vulnerable,” said Swithern.
“Unless something comes out of Addis and around the SDGs that looks at the poverty questions around those crisis-related areas, you are not going to end poverty and you are not going to solve crises.”
Last year, 10.7 million more people worldwide were affected by natural disasters compared with 2013, while conflict and persecution created a record number of displaced people.
The report noted that the Ebola crisis received significant support that was not categorised as humanitarian assistance, so the total amount for the year might be higher than the headline figure.
The rise in overall humanitarian funding reflected the fact that there were now more people displaced in the Middle East than in Africa.
The Syria crisis drew the largest appeals; along with the ongoing conflict in Iraq and the situation in South Sudan, it became a significant driver in last year’s $4bn rise in humanitarian funding.
“The domestic contributions of countries hosting Syrian and Iraqi refugees, most notably Turkey, also continue to be vital,” the report said. In 2013, Turkey spent $1.6bn helping Syrian refugees.
Saudi Arabia joined the list of the top 10 donors after it increased its humanitarian funding by $518m, to $755m. This was the second highest volume increase of all donors, amounting to a trebling of the country’s 2013 commitment.
The United Arab Emirates became one of the 20 largest contributors after raising its contribution by 317%, from $90m in 2013 to $375m in 2014.
“[Middle Eastern donors] have been key players for a long time, but with the rise of conflict in the region … we are seeing these donors rising in prominence,” Swithern said. She added that this was partly down to more standardised reporting by these donors, with whom the world should engage to ensure the quality and quantity of the funding stream.
Contributions from private donors rose by an estimated 8%, and accounted for a quarter of international humanitarian assistance. As a group, private donors were the largest international contributor to the typhoon Haiyan response in 2013, and the third largest supporters of the Ebola response last year.
The report noted that two-thirds of international humanitarian assistance still went to long-term recipients such as Somalia and Pakistan.
Despite widespread acknowledgement of the importance of local NGOs in delivering relief, initial data from 2014 found that their direct share of total humanitarian funding had halved, from 0.4% in 2012 to 0.2% in 2014.
However, data gaps meant it was very hard to trace money all the way from donors to recipients, making it difficult to measure funding to local and national NGOs.
“There is a real groundswell at the moment talking about localising the response in recognition of the role of local and national actors as the first and, in many cases, the best responders,” Swithern said.
She added that more analysis was required to determine how to improve these organisations’ access to direct funds.
New sources of funding were needed from more diverse donors as well as more efficient methods of delivering the money to those in need, the report said. These issues will be discussed at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul next year, and Swithern said private funding would be a particular focus.
“This resource that we call international humanitarian assistance is just one piece of the picture,” she said. “What we need is a comprehensive solution that involves different mixes of resources for different contexts.”