Our private humanitarians

Companies and private citizens have been stepping up their response to humanitarian emergencies in the past few years.

At least $73.9 billion in humanitarian aid was mobilized between 2006 and 2010, according to Global Humanitarian Assistance, a program run by the U.K. consultancy Development Initiatives. Almost a quarter ($18 billion) came from private donors.

Private funding for humanitarian assistance was highest in 2010, the year a 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Haiti and torrential rains caused epic floods in Pakistan. In that year alone, at least $5.8 billion was raised through private donations. This was a 70 percent increase from private funding levels in 2009.

These estimates are based on GHA’s analysis of a sample of humanitarian agencies, including the Red Cross, 26 members of “representative and well-known” NGO alliances like Oxfam, Caritas and Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as five U.N. institutions: the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, World Health Organization, World Food Program and UNICEF.

It’s hard to say conclusively how much civil society and the private sector spend on humanitarian aid, since no single source tracks such donations. GHA’s estimates are perhaps the best indicator yet.

One interesting takeaway: Roughly three quarters of private contributions toward humanitarian efforts appears to come from individuals, with the rest coming from companies, foundations and national chapters of the Red Cross or U.N. institutions, according to GHA data from 2006-’07.

Individuals almost exclusively donate to NGOs, while corporations and foundations gave, respectively, roughly 5 percent and 10 percent of their donations to the United Nations and Red Cross. Funds raised by national chapters of the Red Cross or United Nations tend to go toward their international counterparts.

It’ll be interesting to see corporate philanthropy evolve as traditional donors and aid groups increasingly engage the private sector in development cooperation. NGOs mobilize more than half of their income through private and corporate sources, GHA data suggests. In comparison, just over a quarter of the Red Cross’s income comes from private sources, and 5 percent of the five U.N. institutions’.

What was this money spent on? It’s hard to say. Only five of the organizations GHA analyzed distinguished how they spent privately sourced funds in their expenditure reports: the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, Danish Refugee Council, International Medical Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council and MSF.

A majority of these groups’ overall spending, though, went to operations in Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Palestinian territories, Kenya and Somalia between 2006 and 2010.

Read our previous DevTrivia.

About the author

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    Ivy Mungcal

    As senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributes 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.