Is the humanitarian system effective? Decoding the 2018 SOHS Report

The 2018 ALNAP report “The State of the Humanitarian System”, or SOHS 2018 for close friends, covers the 2015-2017 period. This is the third edition of a quantitative and qualitative study on the current state of the humanitarian system.

ALNAP is an international network of humanitarian organizations, including UN agencies, donors, members of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, NGOs, academics and consultants dedicated to learning and improving the response to humanitarian crises.

The survey involved 1,170 aid practitioners in 116 countries, 28 governments, 5,000 aid recipients and about 500 interviews. Each of these interviews was recorded, transcribed, translated from a multitude of languages, then analyzed and coded. There has been a very robust work here to establish figures and conclusions. Data from other sources were also taken into account: FAO, UNHCR, ACAPS, UNRWA, etc.

This report provides a numbered and statistical vision of international humanitarian action between 2015 and 2017. Humanitarian Challenges presents a synthesis of this report and publishes some graphs with explanation texts. The complete “SOHS 2018” can be accessed by clicking here.

Where are the needs?
Number of people in need and three main countries per region, 2017:

Between 2015 and 2017, the evolution of humanitarian needs has been increasing, reaching 201.5 million people in 2017, with very different distributions across continents. The heart of the needs, however, remains on the band of the South Sahara (DRC, Ethiopia, Nigeria …) and within the Middle East. 23% of the population in need of humanitarian aid currently live in only three Middle East countries: Yemen, Syria and Turkey (see Figure 2, SOHS 2018). For this reason, Syria alone has received nearly a third of the funding for the year 2017.

The origin of humanitarian funds:

Most of the funds dedicated to humanitarian action come from three bilateral donors: the United States (USAID), Germany (GIZ) and the United Kingdom (DFID). Together they account for almost 60% of the governmental contributions, a slight increase of 4% from 2014. Most of the funds were first distributed to multilateral agencies (UN) and then redistributed to field NGOs as grants.

Humanitarian aid by type of crisis in 2017:

Since 2015, a new branch of aid has notably developed. It is the reception of refugees, which represents more than one billion euros of humanitarian aid, often in countries affected by conflicts or natural disasters (see diagram).

International and national staff on the field:

Increased needs and funding for humanitarian assistance have also increased the number of field staff. In 2017, humanitarian NGOs employed approximately 570,000 people, 27% more than in 2014 (SOHS 2015 report). It is noteworthy that this increase is based on the recruitment of national aid workers, while the number of expatriates has remained stable.

Is the humanitarian system effective?

In recent years, donors funding volumes have continued to increase despite the economic and political difficulties in many contributors’ countries. Requests for funding from NGOs and operators have also been growing. However, they remain higher than the funding granted. Resources are still insufficient to meet all needs.

The issue of effectiveness was also asked to the beneficiaries in the form of questions, such as: “Do humanitarian activities respond to the most important needs”? Of the 5,000 beneficiaries who participated in the 2018 SOHS survey, 87% answered “yes” (39%) or “partially” (48%). Similarly, among the practitioners surveyed, 52% said that the achievement of program objectives was good or excellent, an increase of 10% over the previous year.

Mali, Lebanon, Kenya, Yemen, Bangladesh: case studies reflecting contemporary humanitarian challenges.

The ALNAP researchers also wished to bring a qualitative aspect to this SOHS 2018 by joining the URD group. The think tank has produced five case studies where the humanitarian response is particularly complex and faces contextual difficulties (lack of resources, bureaucracy, unstable political and environmental situations):

  1. Yemen: Save lives and beyond.
  2. Mali between hope and despair
  3. Lebanon stability and stagnation
  4. Kenya Drought in the North
  5. Bangladesh : what future for the Rohingyas ?

The five case studies are available online at Also find the summary of this report in English: here.

By Sarah Boisson