Defining humanitarian assistance

Humanitarian assistance is generally accepted to mean the aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters, as well as to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations (Source: Good Humanitarian Donorship). What marks it out from other forms of aid and foreign assistance is that it should be guided by the principles of:

  • humanity – saving human lives and alleviating suffering wherever it is found
  • impartiality – acting solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between or within affected populations
  • neutrality – acting without favouring any side in an armed conflict or other dispute where such action is carried out
  • independence – the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

However, what is actually reported as having been spent on humanitarian assistance can vary widely by data source. There is no universal obligation to report humanitarian assistance expenditure and no single repository of information. Inclusions as to what counts as humanitarian assistance expenditure will vary by government, NGO, multilateral organisation, foundation, company and database.

Most of our analyses and attempts to quantify humanitarian expenditure are based around the concepts of:

  • international humanitarian response
  • domestic government humanitarian expenditure.

What’s included – and who – depends on donor reporting and data availability.