Humanitarian aid: Where did the money go?

Two major natural disasters gripped the world’s attention in 2010, both prompting international responses that had major effects on humanitarian needs and spending.

Responses to the Haiti earthquake and Pakistan’s massive floods accounted for some 42 percent of total humanitarian aid spending in 2010. This amount includes the unprecedented $3.1 billion received by Haiti — an amount more than double the aid received by the largest recipient in any year to date.

These are some of the figures included in a newly released report that tracks financial flows to humanitarian crises. Published by nongovernmental organization Development Initiatives, the report is based on data from the Development Assistance Committee of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United Nations’ Financial Tracking System and the group’s own research.

According to the report, entitled “Global Humanitarian Assistance 2012,” total humanitarian spending in 2010 reached $18.8 billion, of which $13 billion was provided by donor governments. This was a 23 percent increase from the $15.3 billion total humanitarian spending in 2009.

Africa remained the top recipient of humanitarian aid, followed by Asia. The Americas, which received the least amount of humanitarian assistance in 2001, was the third-largest recipient in 2010 — again due to the influx of aid to Haiti. The Middle East came in fourth, with Europe receiving the least percentage of aid in 2010.

In terms of specific country recipients, the massive response to the Haiti earthquake pushed the country to the seventh spot on GHA’s ranking of the top 10 aid recipients between 2001 and 2010. This list is topped by Sudan, which in those 10 years received a total of $9.7 billion. Rounding up the top five are the Palestinian territories ($6.5 billion), Afghanistan ($5.6 billion) and Ethiopia ($5.3 billion). Other top aid recipients include Iraq, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Indonesia.

The kind of aid received by these countries was largely driven by need. For instance, one-third of aid channeled to Afghanistan from 2006 to 2010 was for reconstruction while 80 percent of aid received by Ethiopia in the same period — during which the country was suffering a food crisis — was in the form of food assistance.

The GHA report also cites preliminary figures and analysis for humanitarian financing in 2011. Early estimates, for instance, suggest a decline in overall aid spending to $17.1 billion. This is due in part to decreased humanitarian needs, although the report says this may be reversed given the conflicts in Libya, Syria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen.

“The major proximate causes of humanitarian crises may have eased in 2011,” the report concludes, “but global forces contributing to vulnerability, particularly for the poorest people, remain very much present.”

Read our previous DevTrivia.

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.