Global Policy Forum

UN Calls for Continued Humanitarian Funding



November 30, 2009


The UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, urged donors not to squeeze funding to humanitarian emergencies while launching the annual Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) in Geneva on 30 November.

"It is vital that humanitarian assistance be insulated from budget pressures; it is important to make sure that people are not put under pressure from a financial crisis that was not of their making," he said, clearly concerned that the global economic crisis would leave traditional grant-makers strapped for cash.

Humanitarian funding remained strong throughout 2009, but most donor budgets were approved before the crisis hit; in 2010 aid budgets will be competing with domestic economic stimulus packages in many countries.

The UN CAP process provides a mechanism for combining humanitarian aid requests for a specific country or region to make coordination more effective. "The idea is to present a concerted and strategic action plan," Holmes said.

The 2010 appeal covers 48 million people in 25 countries; at least 380 international agencies and NGOs have submitted projects, with a combined price tag of US$7.1 billion - roughly $2.6 billion less than in 2009.

On average, donors eventually provide just over half the funding requested. The 2009 CAP initially called for $6.3 billion, but a series of additional appeals linked to crises - including Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan - eventually raised the amount to $9.7 billion. A total of $6.3 billion was eventually raised, setting a new record.

By far the largest request is for Sudan and the ongoing Darfur crisis, where humanitarian projects are costed at $1.878 billion, a similar amount to last year's; Afghanistan is in second place with $871 million; next, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which hosts the largest UN peacekeeping mission, at $828 million.


According to Robert Smith, head of the CAP section in the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, "aid needs to be holistic and incomplete aid doesn't get people out of crises."

People tend to have several kinds of needs at once, he added. "It's not enough to give treatment to a malnourished child. The child's family will also need food aid and help in restarting their livelihood. The child must be getting clean water from a protected source or else she can get an intestinal infection - that throws her back into malnutrition."

Despite the pressure on the world economy, there are no indications so far that overall humanitarian aid is likely to be cut, according to analysts IRIN spoke to. "At this point, it seems unlikely that the financial crisis will have a negative impact on humanitarian funding levels," said Rachel Scott of the UK-based Development Initiatives, which tracks aid funding.

Many countries base their contributions on a percentage of their GDP, and if their economies contract, the danger is that their contributions will also shrink.

Jonathan Mitchell, Emergency Response Director of CARE International, a global aid agency, pointed out that humanitarian funding was particularly difficult to forecast, given the unpredictability of disasters.

The best guarantee for continued humanitarian funding might be that it in the long run it made economic sense. "It's a drop in the ocean compared to the budgets of most rich countries," said Mitchell.

"It is not as though anyone is going to help their budget by making cuts. If they cut humanitarian funding, they would only be cutting a minimal part of their total government expenditure, and it wouldn't help much. Most governments realize that spending money on overseas development and emergency assistance is critical for stability."



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