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Humanitarian Assistance

150702 Photo with Stephen OBrien

New Zealand and Australian NGO representatives met with the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O'Brien in July 2015, at the Pacific regional consultation of the WHS and presented the 'One size doesn't fit all' report that came out following the Tropical Cyclone Pam response in Vanuatu. Photo source: ACFID


Humanitarian responses are as complex and intricate as the emergencies they are attempting to counter. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward solution or single best practice model for humanitarian agencies to utilise and instead stakeholders must continually adapt their models of response to events on the ground. To ensure mistakes are not repeated and that the international community grows in its capability to respond efficiently and effectively to humanitarian crises, numerous organisations undertake ‘lessons learnt’ activities which evaluate what does and does not work and how to improve on previous methods.

This section contains the most up to date, revolutionary, and informative material in this field, looking at what individual agencies have learnt in particular crises, as well as providing analyses of the broader discourse.  

General Resources:

The following documents are a selection of humanitarian response discourse.


Time to let go: A three-point proposal to change the humanitarian system 2016

Humanitarian Policy Group 2016 - decoupling humanitarianism from its Western-dominated ideas, approaches and actors a necessary precursor to improved response in the emerging world order. 

Northern NGOs, the UN system and the Red Cross are by no means redundant - the billions of dollars still being channeled through them is testament to that - but they are just one part of a much broader universe of assistance made up of other actors with their own distinctive traditions and cultures of care. This report explores this complexity, and sketches out some of its implications for how humanitarian aid needs to change. Acknowledging that there is no single response model would be a significant step towards engaging a wider and more diverse set of actors in crisis response. Accepting that different forms of humanitarianism co-exist would go a long way towards removing the ideological blockages that prevent skilled and capable responders, whether international, governmental or local, from effectively sharing the humanitarian space.

To download the full report


Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2014

The scale of humanitarian crises and needs in 2013 was extraordinary, as was the level of international humanitarian response, which rose to a record US $22 billion. This is a stark change from 2012, which saw no major new disasters and a slight decline in funding. Millions of people were affected by three very different major crises - in Central African Republic, the Philippines and Syria - each designated as the highest level of emergency (Level 3) by the UN. Individually and combined, these placed unique demands on humanitarian responders and donors. Elsewhere, both on and off the international radar, many more people were caught in lower profile crises including in the Sahel, South Sudan and Yemen. Globally, the number of internally displaced people reached an unprecedented 33.3 million, while the number of refugees increased to 16.7 million.

To download the full report

World Disaster Report

IFRC 2015 - Focus on local actors, the key to humanitarian effectiveness

Local actors are often the most effective in conducting humanitarian operations. However, despite their critical role, they struggle to attract the funding and support they need.

The 2015 World Disasters Report – launched today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – examines the complexities and challenges local actors face in scaling-up and sustaining their humanitarian response.

Although widely recognized, the effectiveness of local or national humanitarian organizations is not reflected in humanitarian financing trends. The Report found, for example, that of the total funding given to international, regional, national and local NGOs over 2010 and 2014, only 1.6 per cent of these funds were channeled directly to what were qualified as national and local NGOs.

To download the full report

Imagining More Effective Humanitarian Aid: A Donor Perspective

OECD - October 2014

This paper is intended to provoke debate, and stimulate further thinking and study, about humanitarian effectiveness, and what that will mean for donors and other stakeholders, in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016.

Today’s humanitarian system is made up of many different moving parts. These different parts are guided by different standards and learning initiatives, all aimed at promoting an effective humanitarian response. However, the system itself does not yet have a core set of shared values, and it is not clear whether the overall humanitarian endeavour is fit for purpose or optimally configured, given the challenges of a changing global context, and the increasing complexity of crises.

A common framework for humanitarian effectiveness, designed to promote collective responsibility and mutual accountability, would ensure that each actor would be held accountable for their contribution to the same characteristics of effectiveness – based on what they can control, what they can influence and where they advocate – no matter who was assessing them. No doubt, a shared understanding of humanitarian effectiveness will also stimulate change in the design, tools and approaches, and results measurement, within the humanitarian system.

Download the full report here

World Humanitarian Data and Trends

UNOCHA - 2015

World Humanitarian Data and Trends presents global and country-level data-and-trend analysis about humanitarian crises and assistance. Its purpose is to consolidate this information and present it in an accessible way, providing policy-makers, researchers and humanitarian practitioners with an evidence base to support humanitarian policy decisions and provide context for operational decisions. 

The information presented covers two main areas: humanitarian needs and assistance in 2014, and humanitarian trends, challenges and opportunities.

Read it here

Humanitarian Needs Assessment: The Good Enough Guide

What assistance do disaster-affected communities need? This book guides humanitarian field staff in answering this vital question during the early days and weeks after a disaster, when timely and competent assessment is crucial for informed decision making. Developed by the Emergency Capacity Building Project (ECB) and the Assessment Capacities Project (ACAPS), the Good Enough Guide is especially aimed at national project managers and their teams. Essential reading for field staff carrying out assessments, the Good Enough Guide is also for humanitarian policy makers and researchers.

Access the full document here

Sphere for Monitoring and Evaluation

The Sphere Project office has published Sphere for Monitoring and Evaluation, a short guide to help humanitarian staff identify and implement the sections of the Sphere Handbook that are most relevant to these tasks. Sphere for Monitoring and Evaluation is for all humanitarian practitioners from the assessment to the evaluation phase; for people carrying out monitoring activities and evaluations, be they internal or external. It also addresses the learning processes that should ensue from monitoring and evaluation exercises.

The guide is based on the conviction that Sphere provides useful benchmarks for the whole programme cycle, which can be especially valuable to organisations that do not have internal targets or standard operating procedures. Sphere also adds value through its emphasis on a rights-based and participatory approach. The guide does not set out an ‘approved list' of indicators for each sectoral sets of standards. Rather, it aims to support the effective use of the Sphere Handbook in selecting indicators and designing monitoring systems for humanitarian response generally.

Download a copy of the guide here.