Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2021 – Key figures

The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report has been published for over 20 years by Development Initiatives.

It provides a detailed picture of international humanitarian assistance, based on extensive and accurate data. You will find here a summary of 4 of the 5 chapters of this report, the last one being the methodology.

Enjoy your reading!






Find access to the PDF of the full Development Initiatives report here.

Summaries of 2018, 2019 and 2020 GHARs can be found on the Humanitarian Challenges website, in the “Studies” section.

Chapitre 1: People and crisis

This first chapter takes stock of the extent of global poverty in four points. The central message is that the pandemic has both exacerbated existing needs and fueled new crises in countries that did not need humanitarian assistance, increasing the total volume of aid needed.

People living in extreme poverty are increasingly concentrated in fragile countries at high risk from the impacts of Covid-19

Source: Development Initiatives based on World Bank  PovcalNet, national sources, INFORM Index for COVID Risk and OECD.

  • People living in extreme poverty are increasingly concentrated in countries that are fragile and at high risk from the impacts of Covid-19. In 2020, 66% of people living in extreme poverty (less than $1.90/day) were also living in one of the 52 countries classified as fragile by the report, up from 40% in 2010. Poverty reduction is progressing overall but is very uneven and has increased by 8% in fragile states.


  • Acute food insecurity disproportionately affects the poorest and has been stimulated by the pandemic. The report estimates that more than 80% of people living in severely food insecure areas live below the international poverty line ($3.20/day).


  • The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbates humanitarian crises, with more people in more countries affected. The pandemic has exacerbated existing crises but has also been the main driver of humanitarian needs in some countries like Iran. The report estimates that 243.8 million people in 75 countries have been assessed as needing humanitarian assistance (224.9 million in 65 countries in 2019). High numbers of people in need remained concentrated in a small number of countries: more than half of those in need in 2021 lived in just nine countries.


  • The number of displaced people increased for the ninth consecutive year to 82.1 million (+3.4%). In 2020, 10 countries hosted 54% of IDPs, a similar proportion to 2019. Many IDPs are in situations of protracted displacement with no possibility of safe return to their homes.
    • 58% were forcibly displaced within the country;
    • 32% were refugees (26.3 million);
    • 5.1% were asylum seekers (4.2 million);
    • 4.4% (3.6 million) were Venezuelans displaced abroad.


20 countries with the largest forcibly displaced populations and risk of impacts from
Covid-19, 2019 and 2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on data from UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Index for Risk Management (INFORM) and Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

The report also makes two findings:

  • Women and girls in conflict zones are twice as likely to experience gender-based violence. This gap is likely to increase with the pandemic. The UN estimates that there will be 13 million early child marriages between 2020 and 2030 due to the pandemic.
  • The availability and delivery of covid vaccine has not been equitable, and countries experiencing a protracted crisis have some of the lowest single-dose vaccine coverage rates in the world (2.4% compared to 12.5% in other developing countries covered by COVAX).



Chapitre 2 : Humanitarian and wider crisis financing

In this chapter, the report highlights that in 2020 global humanitarian needs have increased faster than ever, while the growth of humanitarian aid has stalled. International humanitarian aid volumes had been growing steadily over the years 2012 to 2018 (12% per year on average), peaking in 2018 at $31.3 billion.

International humanitarian assistance, 2016–2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service, UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and our unique dataset for private contributions.

Funding needs through UN-coordinated appeals were also following a steady increase (+90% compared to 2015). However, actual funding declined for the first time in 5 years. Of the $38.8 billion requested, $18.8 billion (including $5.7 billion related to covid) was not funded, compared to $11.1 billion in 2019.

Of the 55 calls in 2020, only 7 received 75% or more of the required funding. The number of calls with less than a quarter of the funding requirement met worsened significantly in 2020, with 17 calls receiving less than 25% coverage. In 2019, no calls were funded at less than 25%.


Funding and unmet requirements, UN-coordinated appeals, 2011–2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS and UNHCR data

The UN-coordinated appeals do not represent all the needs, so significant funding is provided outside of the appeals. For example, in 2020, the needs of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) rose sharply to a record level of over 1 billion, while the funding gap continued to widen (58% coverage).

In addition, the role of the broader development community is increasingly important and countries in crisis now receive far more development funds than humanitarian funds.

Official Development Assistance (ODA) received by countries in crisis has thus increased from 47% of total ODA in 2010 ($51 billion) to 65% in 2019 ($94 billion). The proportion of ODA reported as humanitarian aid has doubled from 15% in 2010 ($7.6 billion) to 29% in 2019 ($27.2 billion).


ODA from multilateral development banks to the 20 largest recipients of humanitarian
assistance, 2010–2019

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC CRS

Multilateral development banks (MDBs) have become increasingly active in crisis contexts, providing increasing volumes of ODA to countries in crisis.

MDB disbursements to the 20 largest recipients of humanitarian assistance have doubled since 2014, from $5.4 billion to more than $10.7 billion in 2019. However, the share of disbursements in the form of grants has decreased significantly in favor of loans.

For the epidemic response, total MDB financing reached $120 billion in April 2021, 95% of which was in the form of loans. The IMF has been the largest contributor, committing $50.4 billion to date.

Finally, the total volume of ODA with disaster risk reduction as its primary objective has increased from $1.4 billion in 2018 to $1.9 billion in 2019.


Chapitre 3 : donors and recipients of humanitarian and wider crisis financing

This third chapter makes the key finding that most government donors increased their contributions in 2020, but significant reductions by a few key donors caused overall aid to stagnate.

The volume of international humanitarian aid from the top 20 government donors in 2020 stabilized at $23.1 billion. As in previous years, the top 20 public donors in 2020 contributed 96 percent of total international humanitarian aid allocations. The top three donors (US, Germany, and the UK) accounted for 61% of total donor contributions.


20 largest public donors of humanitarian assistance in 2020 and percentage change
from 2019

Source: Development Initiatives based on OCED Development Assistance Committee (DAC), UN OCHA Financial Tracking Service and UN Central Emergency Response Fund data

The largest donors to Covid-19 were the United States, Germany, and Japan.

It should also be noted that many donor countries also hosted exiles and that most government spending within their own borders is not accounted for. In the previous year, three countries accounted for nearly two-thirds of all in-country refugee spending: Germany (29 percent), the United States (21 percent), and France (13 percent).

Another important indicator highlighted in this chapter is the proportion of gross national income (GNI) devoted to international humanitarian assistance because it reflects the importance of humanitarian spending relative to the size of a country’s economy. Within this framework, five donors provided more than 0.1 percent of GNI as international humanitarian assistance in 2020, as shown in the following infographic.


20 donors providing the most humanitarian assistance as a percentage of GNI, 2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on OECD DAC, UN OCHA FTS, UN CERF, World Bank World Development Indicators and International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook data

The proportion of total private funding from individuals continues to grow. For example, in 2019, international humanitarian aid from private donors increased by 9%, from US$6.2 billion in 2018 to a record $6.8 billion in 2019.

Sources of private international humanitarian assistance, 2015–2019

Source: Development Initiatives based on GHA’s unique dataset of private contributions.

While total international humanitarian aid stagnated, 112 countries received more than $5 million in humanitarian aid compared to 69 countries in 2019. One explanation is that the top 10 recipients received 57% of all funding or $13.3 billion (-11%) in 2020 compared to 66% ($15 billion) in 2019.

In addition, with $1.3 billion provided in response to the pandemic, these countries actually received $12.0 billion for other pre-existing or emerging humanitarian needs in 2020, $3.0 billion less than in 2019.

Overall, countries outside of the top 10 recipients received more funding in 2020 than in 2019, but less if those for Covid-19 are removed.

10 largest recipients of international humanitarian assistance, 2019–2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Financial Tracking Service (FTS) data.


CHAPITRE 4 : funding for effectiveness and efficiency

According to this chapter, international humanitarian assistance would have been provided broadly in the same way in 2019 as in previous years: multilateral organizations received most of their funding from public donors, and NGOs from private donors.

Channels of delivery of international humanitarian assistance, 2019

Source: Development Initiatives based on Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC), UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Financial Tracking Service (FTS) and UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) data and Development Initiatives’ unique dataset for private contributions.

Local and national actors are often the first to respond to crises, especially since the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions on access. Commitments made at the Grand Bargain, an agreement among the largest donors and humanitarian agencies in 2016, included a global target of 25% of total international humanitarian aid transferred to local and national actors by 2020. Since then, while the absolute volumes of international humanitarian aid passed directly to local and national actors have increased, the scale of this aid falls far short of expectations.


Direct funding to local and national actors reporting to UN OCHA FTS, 2016–2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA FTS data

Pooled funds are an increasingly important part of humanitarian funding because of their responsiveness and flexibility. They consist of the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the Country-based pooled fund (CBPF). Contributions to the UN pooled funds fell sharply in 2020 to $1.5 billion from a record $1.8 billion in 2019.

It should be noted, however, that the proportion of PBC funding to country organizations continues to grow despite the absolute decrease in CBPFs.




Total funding to UN-managed humanitarian pooled funds, 2011−2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on UN OCHA’s CBPF Grant Management System and UN CERF data.

Quality funds (multi-year, unearmarked funding as a proportion of total funding) are another option favored by the Grand Bargain. They should represent 30% of international humanitarian aid by 2020. While they have increased significantly in volume by 2020, as a proportion of total funding, they remain below 2016 levels.

Proportion of resources received by UN agencies reported as earmarked and unearmarked, 2016–2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on data provided bilaterally by UN agencies.

Multi-year funding is, according to the Grand Bargain, funding that lasts 24 months or more from the start date of the initial funding agreement. This method of funding provides implementing agencies with predictable resource levels that can allow for efficiencies and effectiveness by allowing them to plan ahead.

15 donors, which provided 84% of total government humanitarian assistance in 2020, allocated 42% (US$6.5 billion) of their multi-year humanitarian funding in 2020 compared to 50% (US$7.3 billion) in 2019.

Finally, the volume of humanitarian cash and voucher assistance (CVA) continued to grow in 2020 across all types of organizations. This method that can be rapidly deployed in suitable areas was often the modality chosen to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Total funding for humanitarian cash and voucher assistance, 2015–2020

Source: Development Initiatives based on data collected with the help of the Cash Learning Partnership from implementing partners and on UN OCHA FTS data

To summarize, here are the key 2020 trends to remember:

– Humanitarian needs are growing: 243.8 million people living in 75 countries have been assessed as needing humanitarian assistance. The Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating and creating humanitarian crises.

– While global humanitarian needs have grown faster than ever, the growth of humanitarian assistance has stalled. Appeal coverage rates are declining.

– Most government donors increased their contributions in 2020, but significant reductions from a small number of key donors have caused overall aid to stagnate. Overall, countries received less funding in 2020 than in 2019, particularly if those for Covid-19 are removed.

– The structure of international humanitarian assistance remains the same: Multilateral organizations received most of their funding from public donors, and NGOs from private donors. The funding commitments made at the Grand Bargain are far from being met.


Rodolphe Rouyer


The National Humanitarian Conference 2020: undeniable advances in the field of law

The fifth edition of the National Humanitarian Conference (NHC) was held on 17 December 2020. Although health constraints weighed on it, particularly because it was organised completely online (except for the final round table), the willingness of the Crisis and Support Center (CDCS) of the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs (MEAE) to organise it against all odds – in close collaboration with French humanitarian NGOs – must be commended.

Statement by the President of the Republic at the 5th National Humanitarian Video Conference, ©Judith Litvine/MEAE

Many of the topics on its agenda have been waiting – for a long time – for public expression in a quasi-institutional setting, as well as for the beginnings of responses. Faced with the growing concerns of the humanitarian community, it has thus provided useful clarifications and a welcome acceleration of projects which have sometimes been underway for several years (such as bank transfers). In other cases, it has opened up new avenues which are now being worked on and put into practice. It has therefore played its role as a “forum for dialogue”[1] bringing together every actors and actresses involved in humanitarian action: the State, NGOs, Foundations, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, United Nations humanitarian agencies and the European Commission’s DG ECHO.

This NHC brought together more than 500 participants who connected, totally or partially, during the course of the event. This is – it should be noted – far more than the physical capacity of the place where it usually takes place would have allowed.

In many ways, it marks a turning point. Firstly, because for the first time it has been concluded by a President of the Republic, which – unquestionably – enhances his position and reinforces his influence. Emmanuel Macron has – from the outset – kept a long-standing commitment, despite the effects of COVID-19, which he felt of that day. Secondly, because the public authorities listened to the demands of humanitarian actors and made important announcements (summarised in the closing presidential speech).

However, it is still difficult to draw up a complete assessment of the situation, given that, at the time of writing, there has been only a slight setback in time compared to the time when it took place. Beyond the future operational aspects, it is nevertheless possible, by adopting the focus of the law, to highlight several key elements. For – and this is another highlight – the NHC has been strongly illustrated by the importance of the legal fact. A characteristic that can be found in several of the 17 commitments made by the Head of State.

1. Promotion of the primacy of International Humanitarian Law (IHL)

Launch of IHL Square

Throughout the day, the importance of IHL and its full and complete respect was strongly emphasised, before the presidential intervention underlined it in turn. This amplifies France’s investment in this field. It seems obvious for humanitarians, but it is always better when you say it. Especially when concrete measures are or will be implemented, translating the commitments made into practice – beyond declarations. State actions to promote IHL within the armed forces and, more generally, to raise awareness of IHL within all State services, as well as civil society, will now be much more structured. They are part of a concrete programme that is being and will be developed over time. It will involve administrations as well as universities, researchers as well as associations, businesses as well as teachers. This should lead to a strengthening of its application and, above all, provide a better understanding of its fundamental role and the issues at stake.

Special Representative for Humanitarian Action

As part of this political will with regard to IHL, the creation of the post of Special Representative for Humanitarian Action to the United Nations Secretary General (UNSG) – and more particularly the Deputy UNSG for Humanitarian Affairs – will necessarily also have a legal dimension. This Special Representative should have in his or her field of mission the humanitarian law aspects of the work of humanitarian organizations and their employees in the field. Since these actors rely on IHL in order – in accordance with humanitarian principles (in particular impartiality, independence and neutrality) – to gain access to suffering populations and to legally legitimise their interventions.

Several of the NHC’s other main concluding announcements also include significant legal features.

2. Measures of a penal nature

Fight against the impunity of the aggressors of humanitarian workers

The assassinations and attacks committed against aid workers in the 11 months leading up to the HCN had a profound impact on the aid community. Particularly the massacre of seven employees of the NGO ACTED (6 French and 1 Nigerien) in Niger on August 9, 2020, as well as other murders in Nigeria and DRC. Faced with this rise in extreme risks, the issue of the almost general impunity enjoyed by the perpetrators and sponsors of such crimes requires to go beyond the mere technical measures to reinforce staff security.

Charline, Antonin, Myriam, Stella, Léo, Nadifa, Kadri Abdou Gamatche, Boubacar Garba Soulay. Victims of the 9 August 2020 attack in Niger.

Putting an end to the scandal of impunity by giving ourselves the means to combat is now becoming crucial. Not only to ensure that justice is done, but also as an instrument of deterrence or – at the very least – of limitation of such acts. The “Crimes against Humanity – Crimes and War Crimes” unit of the National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor’s Office (PNAT) could therefore be given new functions in 2021. The question of a specific incrimination different from that of “terrorism” was debated during the Conference. Humanitarian NGOs – particularly as this also reflects a strong sensitivity on the part of their employees – should be attentive to the expected developments in this direction.  Beyond this – and with a view to putting an end to this scandal of impunity – some are considering pooling the information gathered by each of them on the potential perpetrators who ordered and were complicit in these abuses. In order to build up reliable and constantly enriched databases. The initiative to create a dedicated structure was not decided at the NHC, but discussions are ongoing and the state is likely to play its part.

Preventing the criminalisation of aid

The threat of criminalisation of humanitarian actors – as a result of the development and strengthening of both national and international legal standards aimed at fighting terrorism – is now a reality and a source of growing concern in the field. It was also widely debated throughout the NHC. From this point of view, the affirmation by the President of the Republic of the specific nature of the humanitarian mission through the task entrusted to the Minister of Justice, of drafting and distributing a circular to all public prosecutors reminding them of it, is a positive and strong signal.

It should make it possible – in the context of anti-terrorism (legitimate in itself, of course) – to drastically limit the risks of criminal proceedings. without justification. Especially since – for their part – the ICRC, the vast majority of NGOs and Red Cross/Red Crescent organisations have for several years now put in place particularly elaborate internal and external control mechanisms in this area. It would be welcome if – in the process of drafting the circular – exchanges and dialogue could take place with representatives of French NGOs.

Joint Technical Commission

The creation of a Joint Technical Commission – similarly announced by the President of the Republic – will probably also include this dimension of the fight against impunity. However, given the broader nature of the problem, its legal aspects remain to be clarified. In any case, it seems clear that its remit will include monitoring investigations into attacks against humanitarian workers and acting as a relay between organisations and families and the police and gendarmerie services, as well as the judiciary.

3. Administrative and financial security provisions

4th National Humanitarian Conference, 2018 ©F. de La Mure

Bank transfers and sanctions regimes

Another important aspect of the NHC’s conclusions is the announcement that practical solutions will be put in place within a short period of time (6 months) to remedy the considerable difficulties encountered by NGOs in making bank transfers to certain areas of the planet under sanctions or embargoes. They will probably involve the construction of a tripartite mechanism (State / NGO / Banks) proposed since 2017 by the French humanitarian community.

The law will – in this respect – be a useful tool for framing a practical device. Whether it concerns the nature and content of the documents to be provided or the applicable compliance rules (in order to put an end to practices of over-compliance which – as Emmanuel Macron acknowledged – “unduly hinder the action” of the Organisations). Or the security to be provided to financial institutions in order to allay their fears of being prosecuted on an extra-territorial basis (notably by the United States government) on charges of direct or indirect financing of terrorist structures.

Screening and humanitarian exemption

As for the continued extension – particularly at the request of French, European and international donors – of the screening requirements [or screening in the language of aid] for humanitarian agencies, this was an essential aspect of the preparatory work for the Conference, as well as of several of its round tables and numerous interventions during the conference. It resulted in a strong and explicit demand for legal recognition of a “humanitarian exemption”. Both ICRC President Peter MAURER and Deputy UNSG Mark LOWCOCK supported this request – at the NHC. The recent adoption by the Swiss Parliament of such provisions (and similarly by an African state, Chad) was cited as a reference. However, President MACRON has ruled out the introduction of a blanket exemption, particularly in areas subject to a sanctions regime. He stated his preference for a “case-by-case” treatment.

While French NGOs were undoubtedly disappointed that the principle of exemption was not recognised, they nevertheless noted that the problem of an exemption mechanism is recognised and understood. Consequently, over the coming months, it will be necessary to work with public authorities – particularly CDCS – and the other major national public aid donor, French Agency for  Development (FAD) on the criteria to be determined for this “case by case”. In this respect, a normative mechanism will necessarily have to be put in place, both to objectify them and to avoid any breach of equality and to provide legal security for the organisations. This is all the more necessary as the distinction sometimes made by certain donors between “humanitarian aid” and “development aid” is a grey area, with no real legal basis, and many projects in the field combine these two aspects.

Furthermore, perhaps even more than its predecessors, this 5th NHC, which is far from being an end in itself, will, over the coming year and most of the following year (2022), constitute a source and a reference to which the entire humanitarian sector will draw inspiration. Although – probably – they will continue to promote what could be called these four points: advocacy / pedagogy / proposals / practices in their relations with the State and the various administrations, the 3rd and 4th points will henceforth constitute an essential focus, both from an organisational and normative point of view. The NHC has shown – in an exemplary manner – that in these times of multiple uncertainties and increased, if not excessive, humanitarian needs, actors cannot simply remain at the declarative or demonstrative stage. The imperative – and quickly – is to conceptualise the normative and then implement it in order to facilitate operationality.

Philippe Ryfman

Who is Philippe Ryfman?

Philippe Ryfman is a specialist in non-governmental and humanitarian issues on the international scene. A lawyer, specialist in the law of associations and foundations as well as in humanitarian law and Expert-Consultant, he is also an honorary professor and associate researcher at the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. Co-founder and Coordinator of the Forum Espace Humanitaire (FEH). He works – within teams and think tanks – on the strategic prospective of the NGO and humanitarian action environment up to 2030. Author of various books ” Last published, co-edited with S. Szurek & M. Eudes: Droit et Pratique de l’action humanitaire, Paris, LGDJ, 2019. Last published article: ” Se donner les moyens de lutter contre l’impunité des agresseurs de travailleurs humanitaires “, Alternatives Humanitaires, n° 15, 11/20.




[1] Term used on the France Diplomatie website in the summary page of the results of the NHC.

More about the NHC :

Alain Boinet’s editorial summarising the issues at stake at the 5th National Humanitarian Conference.

The article by Françoise Bouchet-Saulnier, MSF’s International Legal Director, on the impact of anti-terrorism measures on humanitarian action.

The interview with Thierry Mauricet, Director General of Première Urgence Internationale, on the consequences of sanctions regimes on bank transfers linked to humanitarian action.

Videos of the National Humanitarian Conference interventions.

Isabelle Moussard, Director of Operations at ACF, on the impact of sanctions regimes. 1:12:38.

Coordination Sud’s press release “Following the NHC, first reactions from humanitarian NGOs“.