humanitarian aid
People talk about it all the time: should we be giving more, less, at all? To whom? When? But exactly how much do people really know about humanitarian aid? Here are 10 facts about humanitarian aid you should know:

1. How much?

It’s difficult to get an exact read on the amount of humanitarian aid given per year because there is no central reporting database and no organization has any obligation to share the amount of humanitarian aid they give. That said, a reasonable estimate for the amount of humanitarian aid given worldwide in 2013 was $22 billion.

2. Span

Humanitarian aid doesn’t just encompass international aid – it also accounts for domestic humanitarian spending.

3. What’s the difference?

Humanitarian aid is different from international aid in another way as well. For aid to be considered humanitarian, it must be allocated according to the principles of humanity, impartiality and neutrality. That is to say, humanitarian aid must be given to save life and prevent suffering considering only the need of the people affected and without supporting any political or military campaign. To put it simply, it’s giving for the good of giving.

4. When is it used?

Political instability in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria sent the amount of humanitarian aid given in 2013 to a record high. Humanitarian organizations respond not only to natural disasters and global health conditions but political unrest as well. Not only did government aid increase by nearly a quarter, but private donations increased significantly as well.

5. Is it enough?

It is estimated that one-third of all global need is still not being met.

6. What does it cover?

Responding to death and suffering is only one component of humanitarian aid. Another important part is preventing the situations that cause preventable death and human suffering. In fact, the U.N. recommends donors focus more aid on prevention, as it produces the greatest return on investment in terms of both saving money and reducing human suffering.

7. How much do we give?

Although the U.S. is the top national donor in terms donor in terms of raw dollars allocated to humanitarian aid ($4.7 billion in 2013), the percentage of its GDP it donates is among the lowest in the developed world. We can afford to give much more than we do.

8. Where does it go?

Despite overall increases in humanitarian aid during the past several years, nearly 25 percent of global humanitarian aid goes to just five causes, leaving many other important causes (such as refugees in Algeria) largely neglected.

9. What can it do?

Preserving human dignity is another central goal of humanitarian aid. It’s a hand up to fellow humans with the aim being that those people can eventually help themselves.

10. Is it effective?

Humanitarian aid is effective. For example, aid to West African countries experiencing drought in the last few years was effective in reducing the number of hungry individuals in the region. Though humanitarian aid may not initially be able to completely solve a problem, it is a proven way to improve lives.

– Elise L. Riley

Sources: Global Humanitarian Assistance, The Guardian
Photo: NYSED