Humanitarian aid in 2009: headlines from the latest DAC data release

Uploaded: 23/12/2010 Author: Lisa Walmsley

Data & Guides Governments
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The OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) published its latest data last week, allowing us to complete our figures for humanitarian aid in 2009. Based on our calculations, overall total humanitarian aid expenditure remained relatively stable at US$11.7 billion – a fall of just under 0.4% (US$52 million) on the US$11.8 billion the previous year.

Total humanitarian aid, 1990-2009. Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC data

Many are asking about the consequences of the ongoing financial crisis, which first made its impact felt on the markets and the pockets of people in many developed countries in 2008. The above patterns in overall humanitarian expenditure for 2009 do not appear to be out of the ordinary. Humanitarian aid fluctuates each year. At US$52 million, the decrease is relatively minor. And many of the 2009 disbursements will have been budgeted for/made prior to the crisis breaking. For the moment at least, the humanitarian expenditure trend remains upwards.

But the headline figure does mask some variations in individual donor expenditure. While some donors reported substantial increases in their humanitarian aid in 2009 – the United Kingdom, for example, by just under US$150 million – others reduced theirs. Some of them considerably so. The 2009 data shows that EU institutions and the Netherlands reduced their humanitarian expenditure by US$350 million and just under US$107 million respectively for example. We are interested in trying to understand the reasons behind significant changes and will be following up with individual donors in the New Year.

At recipient country level, 9 of the 10 largest recipients remained the same in 2009. Myanmar ceded its place in the top 10 to Pakistan, which received the second highest increase (an additional US$370 million). Humanitarian aid to Palestine/OPT shot up to US$1.2 billion and now almost reaches that of the highest recipient, Sudan (US$1.3 billion). Some such changes are to be expected each year.

It is important not to discount the potential impact of the global financial crisis on humanitarian aid – not least because humanitarian aid is a financial flow that underwrites basic service provision in many countries that other official development assistance (ODA), trade, remittances, foreign direct investment (FDI), commercial lending and other financial flows do not/cannot reach. However, the 2009 figures may not be the best indicator of evidence.

Changes in individual donors’ humanitarian expenditure may or may not be symptomatic of financial crisis. They could indicate administrative or wider policy changes. We need to ask the question as the 2009 figures by themselves cannot answer. We will keep an eye on budget announcements (the newly launched is good for that) and the figures for 2010.

Some charts and tables based on the latest DAC release follow…

Top 10 donors of total humanitarian aid 2009

The 10 donors of humanitarian aid in 2009 were (in order): the United States; EU institutions (DG ECHO and others); the United Kingdom; Germany; Spain; Sweden; Netherlands; Norway; Canada and France. A slight change in order from 2008, with Italy ceding its top 10 place to Canada.

Top 10 donors, 2009. Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC data

Top 10 donors of total humanitarian aid 2009 per citizen

When worked out on a ‘per citizen basis’ (i.e. dividing humanitarian aid expenditure by the total population), Luxembourg emerges as a very generous donor (with each citizen contributing just over US$126 to humanitarian aid expenditure), followed by Norway and Sweden. Also interesting to observe is that the United Arab Emirates is seventh on the list.
[table “11” not found /]

Biggest increases in humanitarian aid expenditure, 2009

The United Kingdom increased its humanitarian aid expenditure substantially in 2009 – up by US$149.4 million. Sweden, Australia, Turkey and Spain all increased theirs by over US$20 million. Smaller increases were also made by Canada, Finland, Hungary and Luxembourg.

[table “12” not found /]


Largest decreases in humanitarian aid expenditure in 2009

We are investigating the EU’s decline in humanitarian aid expenditure – when you look at changes by recipient country, they make sense in context of situation and trends … but given the extent of the apparent cut (US$350 million), we have asked the EU to comment. According to its own reports, DG ECHO’s funding remained relatively static.

Other notable changes came from Netherlands and Ireland.

[table “13” not found /]

Top 10 recipients of total humanitarian aid 2009

Sudan remains the top recipient of humanitarian aid for the sixth consecutive year. But its humanitarian aid volume went down slightly (by US$67 million). Humanitarian aid to Sudan has, since 2004, been between US$300 million and US$600 million higher than the next nearest recipient each year. This ‘margin’ has now dropped to around US$100 million.

[table “14” not found /]

Going up … biggest increases in volume of total humanitarian aid 2009

Palestine/OPT’s humanitarian aid rose dramatically in 2009. At US$1.2billion, it has almost reached the same levels as Sudan, which, as a top recipient since 2004, has always had between US$300 million and US$600 million more than the next largest recipient.

[table “17” not found /]

The United States increased its humanitarian aid expenditure to Palestine/OPT from US$22 million in 2008 to US$304 million in 2009. Detailed Creditor Reporting System (CRS) data shows numerous lines of project expenditure, including a large contribution to UNRWA’s General Fund, 2009 Emergency Appeal for the West Bank & Gaza. The European Institutions also increased their directly administered expenditure to the country fairly considerably (by some US$35 million), with contributions to UNRWA for emergency distress relief and reconstruction, and also to NGOs for food aid. The United Kingdom increased its expenditure to the country by a similar amount. The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) doubled its expenditure there too (from US$5 million to US$9.4 million).

Humanitarian aid to Pakistan also increased considerably.

This emphasis on Palestine/OPT only changes the concentration of humanitarian aid expenditure on the top 3 or top 10 donors slightly however.

[table “15” not found /]

Going down .. biggest decreases in volumes of total humanitarian aid in 2009

Humanitarian aid expenditure in Afghanistan went down.. while overall official development assistance (ODA) to the country went up. Humanitarian aid to Myanmar had increased considerably in 2008 (following Cyclone Nargis) and declined again in 2009. Humanitarian aid to Ethiopia had also experienced an increase in 2008 (driven largely by the United States’ response to the food crisis).

[table “16” not found /]



1.       The data on which this report is based is available from the data store:

– for analysis by donor, 1990-2009

–  analysis by recipient should be made available soon (there’s a technical hitch in uploading the file! Sorry!)

2.       Our figures will differ from the DAC’s because:

–          we add in HA/ODA from core contributions to UN agencies

–           we do not include Korea as a DAC donor until the next DAC data release (April 2011, which will provide preliminary data on 2010 flows)

–          in 2009 we have included UAE’s reported HA contribution from Table 2a (as individual donor, as non-DAC donor and in total HA from all donors figure)

– we include the EC as a a donor.

3.       The figures quoted in the above text about the EC and United Kingdom’s contributions to Palestine do not take into account their totally unearmarked core contributions to multilateral agencies.

4.       Our figures relate to official development assistance (ODA or ‘aid’) expenditure as reported to the OECD DAC aggregate tables. The figures reported here exclude debt relief.

5. In 2009, total ODA increased by just over 4% to US$139.8 billion (excluding debt relief). Total humanitarian expenditure reached US$11.7 billion – an 8.4% share of total ODA.

6.       All data is expressed in constant 2008 prices.

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3 Comments in total

  1. David Week says:

    Your first table (donations per citizen) has a column headed “US$m” which should be just “US$”.

    27/12/2010 8:11 am

    • Lisa Walmsley says:

      Yikes! Thank you for spotting it … all sorted now, hopefully!

      04/01/2011 3:49 pm

  2. Lisa Walmsley says:

    We had a really interesting response from the European Commission about the apparent US$350 million decline in humanitarian aid in 2009. It reinforced our oft-quoted maxim about the artificial divide between ‘humanitarian’ and ‘development’ aid when viewed from a recipient perspective. Essentially, the Commission’s overall official development assistance (ODA) remained relatively stable (in fact, it increased slightly in 2009); and actually what happened is that there was a shift from humanitarian to development aid in a series of countries, including Afghanistan, Cote d’Ivoire and Somalia.

    The DAC figure on humanitarian aid is a compilation of humanitarian aid provided by DG ECHO as well as DG Development and DG EuropeAid (the latter two now formerly working together as DG DEVCO – EuropeAid Development and Cooperation. See:

    There was a slight decrease in the humanitarian aid provided by DG ECHO (US$68.2 million) in 2009, following a year where substantial increases had been made due to the food aid crisis. But the main change in the 2008-2009 figures was owing to the assistance provided by the EuropeAid Cooperation Office (AIDCO) as follows:

    Afghanistan – a decrease in humanitarian assistance of US$159 million; but other aid disbursements to the country increased (from US$349 million to US$395 million);

    Côte d’Ivoire – a decrease in humanitarian assistance of US$63.9 million, having made some special disbursements of US$56 million in 2008 for a post-crisis rehabilitation programme;

    Haiti – a decrease in humanitarian assistance of US$33.2 million, having made special disbursements of US$43 million in 2008 for a post-crisis rehabilitation programme;

    Somalia – a decrease in humanitarian assistance of US$52.8 million; overall aid to the country remained relatively stable, so some humanitarian aid was partially reclassified as other aid in 2009;

    Sri Lanka – a decrease in humanitarian assistance of US$58.8 million, following special disbursements of just under US$60 million in 2008 for road-building programmes.

    13/01/2011 5:22 pm

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About the author:
Lisa Walmsley

Lisa worked on several major analysis and publications projects for Development Initiatives between 2006 and 2013. She has a particular interest in the visual communication of statistics and complex information and focuses mainly on humanitarian aid, global development and technology issues.