There is growing demand for humanitarian assistance around the world. Protracted armed conflicts, large-scale displacements, chronic vulnerability, and natural disasters of growing intensity and unpredictability have all contributed to this rise. By the end of 2013, the civil conflict in Syria had lasted nearly three years, leaving 9.3 million people in dire need of assistance. People in the Sahel continued to endure drought and food insecurity, conflicts and waves of displacement. Hundreds of thousands of people in Myanmar remained displaced following intercommunal violence, many beyond the reach of aid workers. And the Philippines was devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan, one of the strongest storms to ever make landfall.
While the total amount received from donors for humanitarian action has increased in recent years, available resources continue to lag behind the growing numbers of people requiring assistance. Donors provided some $8.7 billion to support humanitarian action in 2013–a tremendous amount, but which still left an estimated $5.3 billion in unmet needs.
There have also been changes in the makeup of the humanitarian sector and the way it works. Humanitarian agencies are more numerous and diverse than ever. Regional organizations, Governments and local communities have all expanded their capacity to respond to emergencies. And new technologies, including mobile communications and social media platforms, have made communication easier and given a stronger voice to people affected by crises. People are better able to judge what type of assistance they need and to influence how it is provided.
A rapidly changing world
Over the last 25 years, the world has seen a general increase in the frequency and impact of natural disasters in rich and poor countries alike. These include mega-disasters, such as the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2010, the tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, and the recent super typhoon that laid waste to parts of the Philippines. They also include cyclical disasters such as droughts, floods and extreme temperatures, which have significant cumulative impact but receive little public attention.
Conflict and displacement are also generating increased humanitarian needs. The number of people displaced in their own countries as a result of violence and armed conflict rose from 16.5 million in 1989 to an estimated 28.8 million at the end of 2012. Many communities are also facing a different kind of conflict–one fuelled by criminal activity and trafficking in drugs, stolen goods and people. In Colombia, for example, drug-related violence has been linked to widespread human rights violations and hundreds of thousands of displacements each year.
Protracted and recurring emergencies are creating groups of people for whom crisis is “the new normal,” changing the nature of humanitarian aid. Traditionally, humanitarian assistance was a stop‐gap between a crisis and the ensuing recovery, but today crises often persist for years on end or overlap.
And crises are not only becoming more frequent, they are becoming more complex. New challenges are arising from population growth in some countries, widening income inequality and the effects of climate change, political unrest, migration and urbanization. These changes are putting more people at greater risk. Of the world’s estimated 3.6 billion urban residents, nearly a quarter live in slums, where they are highly vulnerable to disasters. And the world’s urban population is expected to reach approximately 5 billion by 2030.
But even as the needs grow, the risks grow. Humanitarian workers are being denied access to people in need and are increasingly being targeted directly. In 2013, aid workers were attacked in countries including Afghanistan, South Sudan and Pakistan. Sixty-one aid workers have been victims of violence in Syria since the crisis began nearly three years ago – 30 of whom were killed.
In recent years, there has been a move to focus on tackling the root causes of protracted crises and recurrent disasters through resilience programming. Tackling vulnerability and poverty is crucial if long-term recovery efforts are to be successful and if we are to stem the tide of rising aid dependency.
The number of actors involved in humanitarian response is also growing. As more countries reach middle-income status, more Governments are becoming donors and sharing their experience and expertise. National disaster management authorities and regional organizations are playing bigger roles, and more NGOs and civil-society actors are becoming involved in response than ever before. Many humanitarian actors, including OCHA, have established new partnerships with the corporate sector. These new actors have brought different perspectives and capacities to humanitarian response. Retaining a shared commitment to the neutrality, impartiality and independence of the humanitarian system is a challenge as the number of actors grows and as our priorities diverge.
Humanitarian organizations are adapting to rapid advancements in technology. Even as communities are uprooted by displacement, migration and economic hardship, they can stay connected. In 2012, global mobile phone subscriptions topped 6 billion. Through direct communication, affected people can tell aid providers exactly what they need and organize their own responses. Providing connectivity and information to affected people is now a vital humanitarian service in its own right. Informed, connected and self-reliant communities are changing the way we do business, with local telecommunications and Internet-service providers now key actors in humanitarian response.
With international aid budgets under pressure, humanitarian groups are being asked to do more with less. By strengthening humanitarian coordination and helping to reduce duplication and waste, OCHA is playing a vital role in working with partners to maximize the value derived from every dollar spent on humanitarian aid by developing mechanisms that ensure the transparency and accountability that donors seek. In the next two years there will be many opportunities to influence and inform global developments that will have an impact on humanitarian issues.
2015 is the date for achieving the current Millennium Development Goals. It is also the expiration date of the Hyogo Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction. The first-ever World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 will set the future agenda for humanitarian issues, with a particular focus on response effectiveness, reducing vulnerability, managing risk, meeting the needs of conflict-affected people and promoting innovation. Every effort will be made to ensure complementarity between the development and humanitarian agendas going forward.
These figures refer only to total requests made in consolidated appeals (CAPs), flash appeals and other formal appeals monitored through the Financial Tracking Service, including the Syria Humanitarian Assistance Response Plan and Syria Regional Response Plan. For more details, visit http://fts.unocha.org. They do not include assistance given outside the scope of an appeal or similar process that requests a set amount of funding.
OCHA around the world
For more information on the activities of any field office, visit the links below. For more detailed information, including performance frameworks, contact the OCHA Donor Relations Section.
Regional Office for Southern Africa
Regional Office for West and Central Africa
OCHA Eastern Africa
Central African Republic
Democratic Republic of the Congo
Middle East and Central Asia
Asia and the Pacific
Latin America and the Caribbean