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What Is Humanitarian Aid And How Does It Aid Development?

Roberto Isaías explains what humanitarian aid is, who receives it and what its main purpose is. See examples and statistics.

Humanitarian aid is one of the activities that, according to OECD criteria, can be declared as development aid. Learn about its global implications.

Governments, NGOs and philanthropic foundations are the main funders of this aid, which differs from cooperation policies. 

In fact, while cooperation policy aims to support low- and middle-income countries in the medium term, humanitarian aid responds to an emergency logic.

Its objective is therefore to respond to crises caused by conflicts or natural disasters wherever they occur. 

However, it is clear that the emergence of humanitarian crises in low- and middle-income countries and territories raises the question of how to link emergency intervention to a strategy that guarantees the subsequent reconstruction and development phases.

Global humanitarian aid

Each year, Development Initiatives analyzes data on global humanitarian aid, including private and public funds from OECD Development Committee (DAC) member countries, non-member countries and European institutions.

Taking this aggregate into account, it turns out that up to 2018, total humanitarian aid funding has grown considerably. 

However, between 2018 and 2020, this growth stagnated and even decreased slightly.

Global public and private humanitarian aid between 2016 and 2021.

Global humanitarian aid from public funds from OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) member countries, non-member countries and European institutions.

In particular, public funds fell (-4.1% between 2018 and 2019). But private funds have also stopped growing, remaining essentially stagnant over the past three years.

Roberto Isaías Humanitarian Aid 2021

“By 2021, 235 million people will be in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. This figure has risen to 1 in 33 people worldwide, which is a significant increase from the figure of 1 in 45 recorded in the Global Humanitarian Outlook 2020 presentation. The previous, was already the highest figure in decades.”


UN appeals

However, neither the number of humanitarian crises nor the funds needed to address them have decreased over the years. 

According to UN coordinated appeals data, humanitarian crises demanded nearly $40 billion in 2020 for effective response.

In fact, the coronavirus has added to the previous situation in 2020 to aggravate or generate new crises.

At the same time, the number of natural disasters caused by climate change continues to grow.

18.8 billion is the difference between the funds that UN coordinated appeals and the amounts actually raised in 2020.

In fact,  UN coordinated appeals $40 billion  in 2020 but they did not collect 48.45%, compared to 36.5% the previous year.

National contributions to humanitarian aid

While most major donors increased their funding in 2020, some significantly reduced their contributions.

These included the United Kingdom (-30%) and several Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia (-53%) and the United Arab Emirates (-39%).

511 million Italian funds for global humanitarian aid in 2020.

Italian funds, on the other hand, increased between 2019 and 2020 (+17%).

Donor countries and humanitarian aid

Overall, however, only five contributors allocated more than 0.1% of GNI to humanitarian crises in 2020. 

Of these, Turkey has a decidedly high figure compared to the average (0.98%). 

However, Turkey is not a member of the OECD DAC committee and therefore does not have to respond to specific obligations on humanitarian spending data, which it provides on a voluntary basis. 

In fact, it is well known that most of the $8 billion reported as humanitarian aid refers rather to spending in Turkey in solidarity with refugees.

What is global humanitarian assistance?

This is an indicator that estimates the total value of what those responsible for raising funds obtain considering both public and private financing.

Global humanitarian assistance is an indicator that Development Initiatives develop to publish the results of their research with the Global humanitarian assistance report every year.

The indicator aims to estimate total international contributions to humanitarian aid. 

It takes into account contributions from governments and EU institutions as well as private individuals.

Private funding 

Private funding is estimated by requesting budgetary information from humanitarian organizations. 

The dataset produced includes information from 236 NGOs; various multilateral organizations such as UNHCR, UNICEF and others; the Red Cross and the International Red Crescent.

In the case of EU institutions, funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) is counted.

Government funding

On the other hand, government funding takes into account funds from OECD Development Committee (DAC) member countries as well as funds from non-member countries.

In the case of DAC countries, bilateral funds earmarked for humanitarian expenditures and some multilateral funds earmarked for specific international organizations, in particular the United Nations system of agencies, are counted.

Funds from non-DAC countries are accounted for using data from the United Nations Financial Tracking Service.

Global Humanitarian Overview 2022

By 2022, 274 million people in 63 countries are in need of protection and humanitarian assistance.

This number is a significant increase from 235 million people in need a year ago, which was already the highest number in decades.

Roberto Isaías Humanitarian Aid 2022

The United Nations and partner organizations aim to help 183 million of the neediest people in 63 countries, which require $41 billion.


This article by philanthropist Roberto Isaias, explains the concept of humanitarian aid, while detailing the global picture of recent years.

From the above we can draw the following conclusions:

  • Humanitarian aid is carried out in accordance with the relevant principles of international law.
  • The objective is to provide assistance, relief and protection to populations in developing countries, victims of disasters.
  • Humanitarian aid can also be declared as development aid.