UN and partners spotlight gap between rising humanitarian needs and available resources

WFP delivering humanitarian aid. Photo: WFP/Giulio D'Adamo

26 September 2015 – As discussions on the new global sustainable development continued at the United Nations in New York, world leaders, UN officials and humanitarian partners focused on one of the most important challenges today, namely the growing gap between the increasing numbers of people in need of humanitarian assistance and sufficient resources to provide relief.

“We’re here today to talk about a system which is not broken – but it is broke,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien told participants at the high-level discussion on the future of humanitarian financing.

Humanitarian appeals have grown by more than 600 per cent in the past decade, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is headed by Mr. O’Brien. The global humanitarian appeal now stands at nearly $20 billion.

Most humanitarian funding this year will go to just five protracted emergencies – Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Humanitarian aid was originally supposed to be a temporary measure – a first aid box,” he noted. “But today, we find we are giving first aid for years, while the underlying causes of the crisis go untreated.”

Mr. O’Brien pointed out that in some cases, humanitarian organizations have become the default providers of essential services: clean water and sanitation; healthcare; education. This fosters dependency and crowds out funding from development partners and national governments.

In an effort to find solutions, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon earlier this year established the High-Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing. Co-chaired by Kristalina Georgieva and Sultan Nazrin Shah, the panel is tasked with examining humanitarian financing challenges and identifying ways in which the gap between rising needs and the resources available to meet them can be closed.

The panel is also working on generating solutions around the issues of more timely and predictable funding, as well as ways in which resources can be used more effectively. It is expected to submit its recommendations in November 2015, and the recommendations will help frame the discussion at the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Istanbul in May 2016.

The UN humanitarian chief said he expected “bold and visionary” recommendations from the panel, whose work will be linked with other processes that are already underway, including the climate change conference in Paris in December and the High-Level Panel on the Global Response to Health Crises, among others.

“Risk management is the unifying principle that runs through all these processes. Success will depend on making the right investments to mitigate risks and prepare for crises,” he stated.

“Humanitarian crises are the most extreme conditions that people face. If we get humanitarian risk management right, the benefits will flow to other areas, including climate change mitigation and efforts to spur development.”

On the humanitarian side, Mr. O’Brien said the UN is already committed to adapting its annual appeal model towards longer-term, more flexible investments in risk insurance, loans and budget support.

It is also committed to better targeting and planning. “We are determined that aid should go where it’s most needed – even where infrastructure is challenging and supply routes are poor,” he stated.

“And we must overcome the long-standing reluctance to fund small, local groups because of perceived problems of tracking and accountability. Local groups, including women’s organizations, are key to building resilience, and are the best way to make a lasting impact on the communities we serve.”


News Tracker: past stories on this issue

UN chief appoints expert panel to address humanitarian funding shortfalls

Related Stories






In-depth Interviews