2014 Breaks Records – Not the Good Kind

It can be difficult to place the severity of humanitarian crises in context, but by most accounts, 2014 is unprecedented in the seriousness of appeals for international aid.

This year, the UN has requested $17.3 billion for humanitarian responses, the highest amount in its history, according to OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service. The figure was adjusted upward from an original $15.3 billion because of developments on the ground in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Iraq, Palestine, the Philippines, and South Sudan.

Two crises are responsible for the lion’s share of the funding requests: Syria and South Sudan. $6 billion has been requested to respond to the suffering caused by the civil war in Syria, compared to just $1.2 billion two years ago. Meanwhile, $3.1 billion dollars has been requested to respond to the conflict in South Sudan and the ensuing refugee crisis in nearby countries.

2013 held the previous record for the largest total humanitarian appeal, at $12.8 billion dollars.

Since 2000, when less than $2 billion was requested, UN humanitarian appeals have skyrocketed. The amount of funding provided to meet those appeals has also climbed upward, although it consistently lags behind the fundraising goals.

This reveals something else about humanitarian appeals. The gap between what is needed and what is paid for is ever widening.

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So far this year, only $7 billion of the $17.3 billion requested by humanitarian agencies has been provided. That’s about 40%. Typically by the end of each year, only 60-75% of the UN’s humanitarian funding requests are met. Still, even if donors provide two-thirds of the funding required, that still leaves a significant shortfall. If precedent holds that shortfall in 2014 could be around $5 billion dollars.

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When you break down the total under funded appeals to individual appeals, you can get a real sense of the extent to which appeals for some humanitarian emergencies are ignored. For example, the top three underfunded response plans in 2014 as of August 6 are for the Gambia (11% funded), Nigeria (14% funded), and the Republic of the Congo (15% funded).

In addition to needing a greater quantity of humanitarian assistance, the UN is also encountering increased difficulty in distributing aid in 2014. The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced on July 22 that because of a surge of conflict, it has moved 56 times more food by air this year compared to the same period last year. WFP cited security risks, blocked roadways, poor infrastructure, and the looting of food stocks as reasons for its resort to air delivery, which is far more expensive than delivery by truck.

These humanitarian appeals fund food, medicine, shelter and basic elements of human dignity for people uprooted by conflict or natural disaster. Every dollar that goes under funded means someone will go without food, water, medicine or a toilet. Unfortunately, the unprecedented scale of humanitarian appeals in 2014 probably means there will be an unprecedented deficit as well.

 Charts from data gleaned from OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service