Humanitarian aid

Humanitarian aid
Humanitarian aid arriving by C-130 Hercules at Rinas Airport in Albania in the summer of 2000. Many organizations engaged in assisting refugees fleeing Kosovo.
A soldier gives a young Pakistani girl a drink of water as they are airlifted from Muzaffarabad to Islamabad.

Humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance provided for humanitarian purposes, typically in response to humanitarian crises including natural disaster and man-made disaster. The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. It may therefore be distinguished from development aid, which seeks to address the underlying socioeconomic factors which may have led to a crisis or emergency.

According to The Overseas Development Institute, a London-based research establishment, whose findings were released in April 2009 in the paper 'Providing aid in insecure environments:2009 Update', the most lethal year in the history of humanitarianism was 2008, in which 122 aid workers were murdered and 260 assaulted. Those countries deemed least safe were Somalia and Afghanistan.



Aid is funded by donations from individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations. The funding and delivery of humanitarian aid is increasingly international, making it much faster, more responsive, and more effective in coping with to major emergencies affecting large numbers of people (e.g. see Central Emergency Response Fund). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the international humanitarian response to a crisis or emergency pursuant to Resolution 46/182 of the United Nations General Assembly.


Bangladeshi citizens offload food rations from a US Marine CH-46E helicopter of 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit after Tropical Cyclone Sidr in 2007

The total number of Humanitarian Aid workers around the world, has been calculated by ALNAP, a network of agencies working in the Humanitarian System, as 210,800 in 2008. This is made up of roughly 50% from NGOs, 25% from the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement and 25% from the UN system.[1]

The humanitarian fieldworker population has increased by approximately 6% per year over the past 10 years


During the past decade the humanitarian community has initiated a number of interagency initiatives to improve accountability, quality and performance in humanitarian action. Four of the most widely known initiatives are the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP), Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), People In Aid and the Sphere Project. Representatives of these initiatives began meeting together on a regular basis in 2003 in order to share common issues and harmonise activities where possible.

Working with its partners, disaster survivors, and others, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (or HAP International) produced the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management. This certification scheme aims to provide assurance that certified agencies are managing the quality of their humanitarian actions in accordance with the HAP standard.[2] In practical terms, a HAP certification (which is valid for three years) means providing external auditors with mission statements, accounts and control systems, giving greater transparency in operations and overall accountability.[3][4]

As described by HAP-International, the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management is a quality assurance tool. By evaluating an organisation's processes, policies and products with respect to six benchmarks setout in the Standard, the quality becomes measurable, and accountability in its humanitarian work increases.

Agencies that comply with the Standard:

  • declare their commitment to HAP's Principles of Humanitarian Action and to their own Humanitarian Accountability Framework
  • develop and implement a Humanitarian Quality Management System
  • provide key information about quality management to key stakeholders
  • enable beneficiaries and their representatives to participate in program decisions and give their informed consent
  • determine the competencies and development needs of staff
  • establish and implement complaints-handling procedure
  • establish a process of continual improvement[5]

The Sphere Project handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, which was produced by a coalition of leading non governmental humanitarian agencies, lists the following principles of humanitarian action:

  • The right to life with dignity
  • The distinction between combatant and non-combatants
  • The principle of non-refoulement

The Quality Project, based on The Quality COMPAS tool, is an alternative project to Sphere, taking into account the side effects of standardisation and those of an approach based on "minima" rather than the pursuit of quality. This project is led by Groupe URD.

See also


Organization types

  • Foundation
  • Community service
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Non-governmental organizations


  1. ^ State of the Humanitarian System report, ALNAP, 2010
  2. ^ - A Gateway for Capacity Development
  3. ^ The Economist - Certifying Aid Agencies, 24 May 2007
  4. ^ Reuters Alernet Website - Can a certificate make aid agencies better listeners? 6 June 2008
  5. ^ HAP-International Website - The HAP 2007 Standard


  • Larry Minear (2002). The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press. ISBN 1-56549-149-1. 
  • Waters, Tony (2001). Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan: The Limitations of Humanitarian Relief Operations. Boulder: Westview Press.
  • James, Eric (2008). Managing Humanitarian Relief: An Operational Guide for NGOs. Rugby: Practical Action.

External links

Critiques of Humanitarian Aid

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