The world needs a humanitarian fund to assist long-term crises

Ahead of the World Humanitarian Summit that will take place next month, Devpolicy Associate Director Robin Davies writes in an op-ed for The Guardian on the need for a global humanitarian fund to finance protracted crises and to meet the international shortfall in funding:

“Humanitarian assistance policymakers will gather at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul at the end of May. Their agenda is rather slight, and one omission is particularly glaring. In each of the last few years, the financing needs of UN-co-ordinated humanitarian operations were estimated to be $20bn or more. The amount of financing actually provided fell short by some $8-9bn – or up to $15bn according to one estimate. It is anomalous that the world is equipped with global funds to finance action on infectious diseases and climate change, but not humanitarian crises. The centreless nature of fundraising for humanitarian action has long been a problem. The problem should no longer be tolerated.


Global funds act as financing aggregators and distributors, independent of implementing agencies and therefore unburdened by their mandate limitations and resource allocation constraints. They have the flexibility to attract finance from any source and to allocate it to any entity well placed to act effectively. Their fundraising and institutional arrangements are designed to focus high-level attention on the problems that they exist to address. Global funds for infectious diseases and climate change exist because these problems transcend national borders and cannot reasonably be left to the resources of so-called first responder developing countries. Clearly, the same is true of the growing problem of crisis-related human displacement.


It is not just that humanitarian assistance is currently too scarce. It is also for the most part tightly tied to specific crises and implementing organisations and provided within narrow time windows. Even responses to the most protracted crises depend heavily upon annual allocation decisions by an array of donor governments. This is why a central financing capacity is important.”

Read Robin’s full op-ed here, and download the policy brief on which it is based here [pdf].

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Ashlee Betteridge

Ashlee Betteridge was the Manager of the Development Policy Centre until April 2021. She was previously a Research Officer at the centre from 2013-2017. A former journalist, she holds a Master of Public Policy (Development Policy) from ANU and has development experience in Indonesia and Timor-Leste. She now has her own consultancy, Better Things Consulting, and works across several large projects with managing contractors.

1 Comment

  • Thanks, Ashlee, for drawing attention to Robin Davies’ important, timely and creative proposal. I urge anyone interested in humanitarian assistance, and particularly those preparing for the Istanbul meeting, to consider Robin’s op-ed and policy brief carefully.

    The case for creating a global humanitarian fund (GHF), of the type Robin proposes, is compelling for several reasons: the quantum of current humanitarian assistance is clearly inadequate compared with the needs (on any reasonable basis), and is likely to remain so; distribution of humanitarian assistance globally is far from equitable, given the political considerations which largely drive governments’ decisions on these matters; delivery of assistance to those who need it is very expensive, fragmented and uncertain; and the jumble of institutions vying for a piece of the humanitarian pie screams out for consolidation and rationalisation. Robin’s GHF won’t solve all of these problems at a stroke, but it could bring some much-needed rigour and direction to future humanitarian assistance, and give it a stronger place in international relations and co-operation – in much the same way that IDA did for development assistance back in the 1960s.

    I have three comments on Robin’s proposal, none of them deadly. Robin rightly posits that a global target of some kind is needed to get a multi-year GHF going. Estimating global humanitarian assistance is very hard – some would say impossible – and yet we know from the trends that it is simply not enough, and by a large and growing margin, to meet the needs caused by natural disasters and complex/protracted emergencies. Robin makes a pitch for a relatively modest target based on shortfalls in the UN’s appeals processes, but this is shaky ground: the UN appeals are themselves inflated to reflect the known shortfalls in responses.

    A second point is that injecting more money into the (so-called) humanitarian system via a GHF would not fix the many significant inefficiencies (leakages) in that system. While that’s true up to a point, a cleverly designed GHF along the lines Robin proposes would see resources shift over time to relatively more efficient delivery channels and this would have salutary reform effects on the others, or their relative importance would decline.

    The proposal wisely leaves to one side big “environmental” problems besetting humanitarian assistance: the UN appeals processes; Security Council decisions; OCHA’s role, status and funding; people displacement and international movement; the fragmentation of humanitarian assistance. A GHF cannot solve these problems, but its own performance will be affected by them. No doubt much of the meeting in Istanbul will be taken up by these big issues.

    Meanwhile, a circuit-breaker such as Robin’s GHF might at least break the current mould of sterile discussion, and create a dynamic with some positive side effects on these bigger issues. Any government with a serious interest in improving humanitarian responses and outcomes at the global level is likely to give the proposal a good hearing, and some might even be brave enough to support it.

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