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Humanitarian issues: Improving the way we work

05 Dec 2013


January 2013, Kenya: A UNICEF aid worker collects data from interviews with displaced families. The information will be used to ensure that the humanitarian response is tailored to the needs of the displaced people. Credit: UNICEF/Minu Limbu
OCHA’s new report seeks to highlight global trends of humanitarian needs and assistance, making aid work more effective in a rapidly changing world.

How are humanitarian crises changing? What risks will influence crises in the future? How can we manage these risks to support vulnerable people better? World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2013 is an annual OCHA publication that seeks to answer some of these difficult questions.

“We hope the report can provide some of the evidence we need to make the humanitarian system more effective and relevant to face tomorrow’s challenges,” says Hansjoerg Strohmeyer, Chief of OCHA’s Policy Development and Studies Branch, which is behind the report. “It provides a global picture of humanitarian needs and assistance and highlights major trends in the nature of humanitarian crises, their causes and the response.”

Being effective in a rapidly changing world

The report aggregates information from different sources, providing a one stop shop for policy-makers, researchers and humanitarian workers. But it goes beyond merely providing statistics. The trend analysis shows how the humanitarian landscape is evolving and how we can be more effective in a rapidly changing world.

For example, the report highlights that the number of people requiring international humanitarian assistance and the cost of helping them has increased significantly over the last decade (Figure A). Humanitarian appeals typically target 60 to 70 million people around the world each year, compared with 30 to 40 million ten years ago. Funding requirements have more than doubled, to over US$10 billion per year. Today’s major humanitarian crises are protracted, with few signs of improvements over the long term. If we look at the 22 countries that had an appeal in 2012, eight of them had an appeal in eight or more of the previous ten years, indicating the chronic nature of many emergencies.

There is no simple explanation for these trends. Many of the risks that lead to humanitarian crises are well known: disasters, conflict, and the harsh, day-to-day realities of poverty, hunger and fragility. There are also new factors at play: climate change, population growth, rapid and unplanned urbanization, and food and water insecurity are leaving more and more people at risk of crisis. For example, it is estimated that the total population of countries that had a humanitarian appeal in 2012 will increase by 179 per cent between 2000 and 2050.

Managing risks, not crises

The rising scale of needs, our collective inability to resolve protracted crises, and the interplay of new risks have led to a global deficit in the operational and financial capacity of governments and humanitarian organizations to respond. This deficit points to the need for a change in the way we look at humanitarian crises.

Instead of seeing them as human tragedies that we respond to in the present, we should start to look at crises we can prevent from happening in the future. Rather than managing crises, we should be managing risk.

The recognition – partially built on lessons learned in the 2011 crisis in the Horn of Africa and carried forward into the Sahel crisis in 2012 – that both humanitarian and development aid must contribute to managing crisis risk has already led to some fundamental changes. Governments, donors and humanitarian organizations are already working differently to provide better-targeted aid that can build the resilience of vulnerable communities. The quantitative analysis presented in the report supports the rationale for these changes.

This report is just one part of OCHA’s efforts to improve data and analysis on humanitarian situations worldwide. In 2014, OCHA will be working with partners to create a humanitarian community data platform. The goal is to create a dynamic interface for users to be able to explore and analyze vast quantities of data, including all of the data used within this report. More information on this effort will soon be available at


World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2013 (PDF)
Dowload the data (Zip file)
Download the graphics (Zip file)