Basic Concepts & Definitions

Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF)

A global-level humanitarian pooled fund established by the United Nations to enable more timely and reliable humanitarian assistance to those affected by natural disasters and armed conflicts.

Cluster approach

A mechanism for sector coordination introduced by the UN in December 2005 to ‘enhance the ability of the ERC (globally) and the humanitarian coordinators (on the ground) to manage humanitarian response effectively’.


A commitment refers to the firm – but not necessarily legally binding – pledges of assistance made by donors.

Common humanitarian action plan (CHAP)

A strategic plan for humanitarian response in a given country or region.

Common humanitarian funds (CHFs)

CHFs are UN-managed country-level pooled mechanisms. Funding received is totally unearmarked. This allows money to be allocated on the basis of needs (as defined in the emergency’s humanitarian action plan).


A set of conflict-affected states was derived for each of the years between 1999 and 2010 using the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme’s (UCDP) database to determine the incidence of active conflict in a given year (both involving state actors and where no state actor is involved but where more than 25 battle deaths resulted) and where the presence of a multilateral peacekeeping mission (excluding purely civilian missions) and no recurrence of violence in that year indicates a country in post conflict. Where a multilateral peacekeeping mission has been present with no recurrence of violence for up to seven consecutive years, a country is deemed to be post-conflict.

Consolidated appeal

A tool for structuring a coordinated humanitarian response to complex and/or major emergencies within UN OCHA’s consolidated appeals process (CAP).

See also ‘flash appeal’.

Consolidated appeals process (CAP)

The objective of the CAP is to set a common strategy and to implement a coordinated response to complex emergencies and natural disasters. The ability to fulfil this objective depends on the extent to which the programmes within the CAP are funded.

Constant prices

Constant (real terms) figures show how expenditure has changed over time after removing the effects of exchange rates and inflation. DAC deflators along with annualised exchange rates, are available at: The base rate year used by the DAC during 2011 is 2010.

Country-level pooled funds

Pooled financing mechanisms that operate at country level and are for response to crises within that country. They include CHFs and ERFs.

Debt relief

Debt relief can be counted as part of a DAC donor’s official development assistance (ODA). It can take the form of cancellation, rescheduling, refinancing or reorganisation.

Development Assistance Committee (DAC)

The DAC is the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD. Its members are: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Commission. These members have ‘agreed to secure an expansion of aggregate volume of resources made available to developing countries and to improve their effectiveness’.

Korea joined the DAC in January 2010. It is treated as a non-DAC donor for the purposes of this website.

Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD)

The DCD (Development Co-operation Directorate) acts as the secretariat for the DAC, providing technical and operational support on: good practice and development co-operation issues; mobilising official development assistance (ODA) financing for development and poverty reduction; statistics on the global development co.-operation effort; and increasing aid effectiveness.

Disaster Response Emergency Relief Fund (DREF)

A humanitarian fund managed by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies for quick response to disasters.

Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC)

The UN Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (USG/ERC) is responsible for overseeing all emergencies requiring UN humanitarian assistance. The USG/ERC may appoint a humanitarian coordinator (HC) in-country.

Emergency response funds (ERFs)

ERFs are emergency pooled funds operating in a number of countries. Managed by the UN they are designed to disburse funds rapidly to a range of actors in response to urgent and sudden need.

Financial tracking service (FTS)

The FTS is a global, real-time database that records bilateral and in-kind humanitarian aid. It has a special focus on consolidated and flash appeals. FTS is managed by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). FTS data is provided by donor and recipient organisations.

Flash appeal

A tool for structuring a coordinated humanitarian response to sudden onset emergencies. It is triggered by the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in consultation with the IASC country team and following endorsement by the Emergency Relief Coordinator (ERC) and the IASC. The government of the affected country is also consulted

Global humanitarian assistance

A term used within the context of the Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) project to mean humanitarian aid from governments and private contributions.

Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD)

The GHD initiative was created by donor governments at a meeting in Stockholm in 2003 with the idea of working towards achieving efficient and principled humanitarian assistance. Signatories must allocate their humanitarian aid on the basis of need and without discrimination (impartiality); they must not favour any side in a political dispute (neutrality); and their humanitarian objectives must be autonomous from political, economic or other objectives (independent). 37 donors are now signed up to the principles.

Global Needs Assessment (GNA) index

Moving beyond a simple headcount of disaster-affected people, the European Union has developed a comparable index of 139 crisis and vulnerable-affected states that aggregates data from a wide range of sources with indicators spanning development, poverty, natural and man-made disasters, population displacement, under-nourishment, mortality rates and levels of donor funding. This GNA index identifies the most vulnerable countries, which are most likely to be worst affected by disasters and then assesses the extent to which these countries are affected by crises and humanitarian needs remain unmet.

Government funding

Government funding includes expenditure by DAC and non-DAC governments and the European Commission.

Gross domestic product (GDP)

The total market values of goods and services produced by workers and capital within a nation’s borders.

Gross national income (GNI)

The total value of goods and services produced within a country (i.e. its gross domestic product (GDP)), together with income received from other countries (notably interest and dividends), less similar payments made to other countries.

Humanitarian aid/assistance

“A generic term used to describe the aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies. We report what other people classify as ‘humanitarian’.” - Global Humanitarian Assistance

“In DAC reporting, humanitarian aid is a sector of ODA that includes: disaster prevention and preparedness, reconstruction relief, relief coordination, protection and support services, emergency food aid and other emergency/distress relief. This strict definition of humanitarian aid, which is governed by the principles of neutrality and impartiality, marks it out from development aid, which can be subject to some conditionality.

While humanitarian aid is traditionally seen as short-term, other ODA sectors (sometimes referred to as ‘development assistance’) such as governance, growth, social services, education, health, and water and sanitation, are seen as sustainable, long-term and poverty-reducing.” - OECD DAC

“The definition of humanitarian assistance agreed in Stockholm in 2003 reaffirmed the distinctive purpose and principles of humanitarian action. The purpose of humanitarian assistance is to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity. For donors signing up to GHD principles, their humanitarian assistance must be allocated on the basis of need and without discrimination (impartial). It must not favour any side in a political dispute (neutral). Humanitarian objectives are autonomous from political, economic or other objectives (independent). 36 donors are now signed up to the principles.” - Good Humanitarian Donorship (GHD)

“Humanitarian assistance must be provided in accordance with the Humanitarian Principles namely: Humanity: Human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, with particular attention to the most vulnerable in the population, such as children, women and the elderly. The dignity and rights of all victims must be respected and protected. Neutrality: Humanitarian assistance must be provided without engaging in hostilities or taking sides in controversies of a political, religious or ideological nature. Impartiality: Humanitarian assistance must be provided without discriminating as to ethnic origin, gender, nationality, political opinions, race or religion. Relief of the suffering must be guided solely by needs and priority must be given to the most urgent cases of distress. Adherence to these principles reflects a measure of accountability of the humanitarian community.” - UN General Assembly resolution 46/182, 1991.

“Since 1991, various legislative decisions have been made in order to recognise a changed humanitarian environment – internal displacement, access, protection, safety and security of humanitarian personnel, humanitarian-military relations, and the frequency and magnitude of natural disasters.” - United Nations

“The range of activities designed to reduce human suffering in emergency situations, especially when local authorities are unable or unwilling to provide relief. Actions include: the provision of food, shelter, clothing, medication through organised facilities; evacuating the innocent and vulnerable from conflict or emergency zones; restoring basic amenities (water, sewage, power supplies); and burying remains.” - Forum on Early Warning and Early Response (FEWER)

“Aid that addresses the immediate needs of individuals affected by crises and is provided mainly by non-governmental and international organizations.” - UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

Inside the CAP appeal

Funds given by donors for needs identified within a UN consolidated or flash appeal.

Long-term humanitarian assistance countries

Long-term humanitarian assistance countries are defined as countries receiving a greater than average (10.4%) proportion of ODA excluding debt relief in the form of humanitarian assistance for more than eight years between 1996 and 2010.

Multilateral agency

International institutions with governmental membership that conduct all or a significant part of their activities in favour of developing and aid recipient countries. They include multilateral development banks (e.g. the World Bank and regional development banks), UN agencies, and regional groupings (e.g. certain EU and Arab agencies).

Multilateral ODA

Multilateral humanitarian aid is funding given to UN agencies, international organisations or the EC to spend entirely at their own discretion within their mandate. It cannot be earmarked in any way.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)

The OECD groups 30 member countries ‘committed to democratic government and the market economy’ and provides a forum where governments can compare and exchange policy experiences, identify good practices and promote decisions and recommendations.

Official development assistance (ODA)

ODA is a grant or loan from an ‘official’ (government) source to a developing country or multilateral agency for the promotion of economic development and welfare.

It is reported by members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) according to strict criteria each year. It includes sustainable and poverty-reducing development assistance (for sectors such as governance, growth, social services, education, health, and water and sanitation) as well as funding for humanitarian crises.

Outside the CAP appeal

Funds given by donors, as reported through UN OCHA FTS, for a country that is the subject of a consolidated or flash appeal but not for the specific needs identified within the appeal document.

Private donations

Contributions from individuals, private foundations, trusts, private companies and corporations.


Private transfers between individuals – often relatives or friends – in another country.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA)

OCHA is the arm of the UN Secretariat that is responsible for bringing together humanitarian actors to ensure coherent response to emergencies. Its mission is to mobilise and coordinate effective and principled humanitarian action in partnership with national and international actors in order to alleviate human suffering in disasters and emergencies; advocate for the rights of people in need; promote preparedness and prevention; and facilitate sustainable solutions.