What is the state of the humanitarian system in 2017?

On 5 December, the fourth edition of ALNAP’s The State of the Humanitarian System (SOHS) report was launched at the Overseas Development Institute in London. The aim of the report is to outline humanitarian needs, provide an overview of funding and to describe and assess the structure of the humanitarian system and how it performed in the past three years. The findings were presented by John Mitchell, Director of ALNAP, which was followed by a panel discussion with Paul Knox-Clarke, lead author of the report and other invited experts.

The report, which refers to the CHS Verification Data maintained by CHS Alliance and is based on reviews of humanitarian actions and databases, interviews with key stakeholders and crisis-affected people, and surveys with aid recipients and practitioners, measures the performance of the humanitarian system by a revised version of the OECD DAC criteria. The main findings include:

Needs and funding

  • The need for humanitarian assistance continued to increase in 2015-17. Although funding grew as well, half of the international humanitarian assistance went just to four crises (Syria, Yemen South Sudan and Iraq).
  • A small number of donor governments provided most of the funding for international humanitarian assistance in 2015-17. The three largest donors accounted for 59% of all government contribution.
  • In 2017, an estimated 201 million people needed international humanitarian assistance, the highest estimate to date.
  • The number of field personnel increased by 27% from the last SOHS report.

Performance of the system

  • Although funding increased, requests for funding also did, thus there was no improvement in sufficiency over the period. Available resources were still inadequate to meet needs.  
  • Coverage is getting worse due to restricted access to reach people in crisis and failure to identify all the affected. Particularly minority ethnic and cultural groups and the elderly lack assistance.
  • The humanitarian system is able to provide relevant and appropriate response to keep people alive in acute crises, but needs to improve in follow-up activities and in understanding the specific vulnerabilities of particular groups.
  • There is an increased number of initiatives to boost accountability and participation but their impact was not sufficient so far to meaningfully change the system. Despite high-level attention to the issue of sexual abuse and exploitation, movement on the ground was slow.
  • Progress was made in terms of timeliness and effectiveness to save lives. The system has improved in addressing food insecurity, but more work needs to be done to meet longer-term and resilience objectives.
  • Limited data show that the system is somewhat efficient but there are areas for improvement, e.g. overlaps between agencies, duplicated reporting requirements to different donors.
  • Agencies report increasing difficulties to be coherent in complying and following core humanitarian principles and international humanitarian law due to security concerns and state pressure.
  • The humanitarian sector is increasingly engaging with the underlying problems of poverty, vulnerability and conflict. (connectedness)
  • Overall, the relationship between international actors and crisis-affected states are improving but this greatly varies from one situation to another. Although the signatories of the Grand Bargain committed to greatly increase the funding to national and local responders and have already taken action, progress so far has been limited. (complementarity)