Chapter 7. Norway’s humanitarian assistance

This chapter looks at how Norway minimises the impact of shocks and crises, as well as how it works to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity in crisis and disaster settings. Humanitarian assistance is an important sector in Norway’s development co-operation policy. Norway has successfully adapted its humanitarian response to the changing pattern of crisis and is striving to better articulate its instruments in crisis contexts. In making multi-annual agreements an increasing feature of its multilateral humanitarian partnerships, Norway is in line with its Grand Bargain commitments. Norway also experiments with ways to support local aid providers more directly. As Norway increases its focus on the most fragile contexts, it will need to systematise a whole-of-government approach and could also benefit from the development of a stronger monitoring mechanism.


Strategic framework

Peer review indicator: Clear political directives and strategies for resilience, response and recovery

Humanitarian assistance is an important sector in Norway’s development co-operation policy. This priority is reflected in both a new humanitarian strategy and a sharp increase in the humanitarian budget. Norway has been able to adapt its humanitarian response to the changing pattern of crisis and now strives to better articulate its instruments in crisis contexts, using long-term funds to address long-term needs.

A new strategy to frame an increased budget

Humanitarian assistance is one of the priority sectors detailed in Norway’s development co-operation policy “Common Responsibility for Common Future” (Government of Norway, 2017). This priority is reflected in a sharp increase in humanitarian funding, both in absolute terms and as a component of its overall official development assistance (ODA). This strong engagement has also led Norway to design a new humanitarian strategy that builds on the country’s good record in the humanitarian sector (OECD, 2013) and its commitments at the World Humanitarian Summit, including the Grand Bargain.

Norway also wants to be more forceful in humanitarian diplomacy, and increase its focus on protecting civilians during armed conflict. Humanitarian diplomacy touches upon the link between politics, development and humanitarian assistance. If Norway wants to link these, it could also consider focusing its efforts on preventing violations of humanitarian law and promoting it with armed actors in countries where crisis risks turning into violence.

Norway is developing its approach to fragility

Norway has clearly stated that humanitarian assistance in crisis situations must be linked to long-term efforts to reduce fragility, prevent conflict and support recovery. The recent strategic framework for engagement in conflict prevention, stabilisation and building resilience (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2017) reflects this policy, and the budget for post-crisis stabilisation and reconstruction was expanded in 2017 to include crisis prevention and stabilisation (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2016). Norway also designs specific geographical strategies in fragile contexts such as the Sahel region to reduce humanitarian needs through peacebuilding and development (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018a). The strategic articulation with humanitarian assistance is not yet clear in its programming, however, and Norway is still developing its approach to fragility. The gap between ever-increasing humanitarian funding, and a limited engagement in peacebuilding has remained too big for Norway to play a major role in peacebuilding. (Figure 7.1). The government’s announcement that Norway will be doubling (to USD 86 million in 2019) its support for countries and regions affected by conflict and fragility (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018b) is therefore a positive development as Norway will be able to better leverage its other tools and political voice. Moreover, comprehensive country strategies outlining Norway’s goal and how its different channels contribute to pursuing that goal would be helpful to Norway’s teams in fragile or crisis contexts.

Figure 7.1. Evolution of Norway’s humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding engagement
Figure 7.1. Evolution of Norway’s humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding engagement

Note: The graph above compares the evolution of Norway’s bilateral humanitarian assistance with the evolution of Norway’s bilateral support to peacebuilding expenditure. A list of peacebuilding expenditure and purpose codes is available in State of Fragility report (OECD, 2018)

Source: OECD (2017), Creditor Reporting System (CRS) (database), (accessed on 24 January 2019).

Rising humanitarian budget

Norway’s humanitarian budget is on the rise (OECD.Stat, 2017a) and the share of humanitarian assistance in Norway’s ODA is also increasing, from 11.4% in 2015 to 17.1 % in 2017 (Figure 7.1), making Norway the ninth largest global humanitarian donor, and seventh largest in the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) (Financial Tracking Service, 2018). Norway’s growing humanitarian budget has helped to absorb the increased overall aid budget, mainly relying on its partners’ capacity to deliver the aid. When an increased share of ODA is allocated to short-term emergency solutions, this can also represent a missed opportunity, especially when Norway’s flexible development instrument could better address some of the key drivers of crisis and fragility in some contexts. In that respect, the doubling of the budget allocation for countries and regions affected by conflict and fragility from 2018 and 2019 is to be commended (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018b). As seen within the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in Uganda, the partnership between Norway and the World Bank represents a good example, which should be replicated more systematically in protracted crisis contexts.

Figure 7.2. Norway’s humanitarian assistance share of ODA
Figure 7.2. Norway’s humanitarian assistance share of ODA

Note: Commitments, 2016 constant prices in USD millions

Source: OECD.Stat (2017), Creditor Reporting System (CRS) (database), (accessed on 24 January 2019).

Effective programme design

Peer review indicator: Programmes target the highest risk to life and livelihood

Norway is a consistent provider of aid in crisis contexts, where most of its ODA is channelled according to its priorities, and it can rapidly adapt its programming to evolving needs. Norway also experiments with innovative ways to support local aid providers more directly. However, the use of information technology should come with safeguards against excluding some categories of vulnerable people.

Humanitarian assistance is delivered mainly in priority countries

Norway bases its humanitarian funding decisions on a mix of political priorities set by the Parliament, dialogue with its United Nations (UN) or non-governmental organisations (NGO) partners whose mandate fits with Norway’s thematic priorities, and its own needs analysis. This corresponds with the focus of Norway’s development co-operation on countries affected by conflict, as well as low-income and least-developed countries (Government of Norway, 2017). Norway’s geographical priority for development co-operation spreads from the Sahel through North Africa to Afghanistan and the Middle East. While Norway’s humanitarian assistance is not bound by its geographical priorities, 60% of Norway’s humanitarian assistance also covers this same geographical strip (Norwegian Agency for Development Co-operation [NORAD], 2017). This demonstrates consistency and opens the way for greater coherence between emergency support and longer term action in those contexts.

Norway is committed to the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework

Norway pays specific attention to the management of refugee flows. It was an early supporter of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants and its related CRRF, providing concrete financial support to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) so that it can implement this framework in its partner countries, as seen in Uganda.1 Other focus areas, e.g. providing identity documentation for refugees, support for work on missing persons in conflict and protection of non-refugee migrants, show Norway’s good understanding of field realities in conflict situations. As noted in Chapter 2, this knowledge could usefully inform more systematic conflict analysis.

Innovative approaches do not always put people at the centre

Because Norway’s humanitarian assistance decisions are centralised in Oslo without dedicated expertise and financial availability in the countries, providing direct support to local humanitarian actors is challenging. Like many DAC members, Norway’s funds are accessible to local NGOs through UN-led Country-based Pooled Funds or Norwegian NGOs. In line with its Grand Bargain commitments, Norway has started testing ways to support national capacities more directly, notably through the Nigeria Humanitarian Fund which is a dedicated funding window for national aid providers, or the Norwegian Refugee Council’s expert deployment capacity (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018d). These are innovative ways to foster aid localisation.

Norway insists that humanitarian response should consider the views of affected people, and the use of new technology and digital solutions is seen as an opportunity to put people at the centre of the humanitarian response (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018e). However, not all of the most vulnerable people have access to such technology.2 As stated in Norway’s humanitarian strategy, the most vulnerable are often in hard-to-reach areas and Norway should be careful not to create a new distinction between the technologically literate who will receive aid, and the people who are not – the most vulnerable in most cases – and risk being left behind in some contexts.

Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments

Peer review indicator: Delivery modalities and partnerships help deliver quality assistance

Norway has built partnerships with its multilateral and Norwegian NGO partners. Norway is increasingly entering into multi-annual agreements with its multilateral humanitarian partners, as it already does with Norwegian NGOs. Because it also provides core funding to UN organisations, Norway is well placed to play an important role in supporting the UN reform process and assessing its performance in co-ordination with other donors.

A balanced pool of partners

Norway provides support to a balanced pool of humanitarian partners (Figure 7.1). Almost half of its humanitarian funding contributes to pooled funds and supports multilateral partners, responding to humanitarian response plans and appeals, trusting they will use the support to reach the most in need. Norway is one of the main supporters of UN Country-based Pooled Funds and is also a consistent top supporter of the Central Emergency Response Fund, with which it entered into a four year agreement in 2018 totalling USD 202.3 million (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018f). Provision of core support is good practice in humanitarian contexts as it facilitates responses to the most pressing needs. Norway is also a strategic donor to the UN organisations it supports. It is an active member of their boards and their donor support groups, through which Norway helps shape the multilateral architecture. This gives Norway some scope to further back up UN reform with a critical dialogue and link its support to positive results at the country level. Norway also provides up to 17% of its humanitarian funding to the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement; such support is in line with Norway’s focus on protection of civilians.

Figure 7.3. Norway’s humanitarian assistance channels
Figure 7.3. Norway’s humanitarian assistance channels

Source: Norad (n.d.), Norwegian Aid Statistics (database),

Rapid response tools and mechanisms

Norway has built efficient rapid-response tools. The Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning has established a support team that can be deployed at short notice, mainly to set up camps for field workers in emergencies – e.g. setting up a co-ordination office for the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Those teams are fully integrated in the International Humanitarian Partnership network,3 and are deployed regularly in emergencies.4

A mature partnership with humanitarian NGOs

Norway also provides a significant part of its emergency aid funding to Norwegian humanitarian NGOs and its partnership with them is mature. Norway has set up multi-annual partnership agreements with some of the Norwegian humanitarian NGOs, wherein it provides very flexible funds as seen in Uganda. In particular, Norway’s partnership since 2009 with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC)’s expert deployment capacity, NORCAP, allows it to support expertise deployment in emergencies or within international organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (NRC, 2017).

Good co-ordination with other donors

While not part of the European Union, Norway associates itself with some EU joint-programming exercises, such as the EU joint-programming in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (European Union External Action, 2017). This is a good sign of Norway’s effort to increase donor co-ordination, in line with its international commitments – notably the Grand Bargain. Given its strong partnership with the United Nations and global funds, Norway is co-ordinating its engagement through regular dialogue and helping to elaborate new joint initiatives or funds in its priority sectors, e.g. education in crisis, with the Oslo Conference and Declaration on Safe Schools (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2015). This is a good way to join like-minded donors in a co-ordinated approach – although creating additional thematic funds also entails some risks (Chapter 2).

Organisation fit for purpose

Peer review indicator: Systems, structures, processes and people work together effectively and efficiently

The humanitarian setup is functioning well. As it increases its focus on the most fragile contexts, Norway will need to systematise a whole-of-government approach. It should also ensure it has sufficient resources as it takes more than funds to ensure sound programming, analyse correctly contexts and key drivers of fragility, and follow up regularly on programmes.

Whole-of-government crisis mechanisms could be further systematised

When Norway decides to engage in a crisis, relevant ministries co-ordinate action both on an ad hoc basis and through the Government Crisis Council, notably when Norwegian citizens or interests are directly involved.5 Norway’s engagement in Afghanistan was a special case of whole-of-government co-ordination because the Provincial Reconstruction Teams convened civilian and military expertise. As Norway has started to engage more substantially in fragile and crisis contexts, it has already built on such experience. The “strategic framework for its engagement in conflict prevention, stabilisation and resilience building” explicitly calls for internal co-ordination (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2017), and country teams were created involving relevant sections of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norad. Those are good practices to build a more systematic whole-of-government mechanism.

Sound programming in crisis and fragile contexts requires staff

The humanitarian section at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs numbers 18 staff members, all based in Oslo. Thanks to efficient funding procedures with multilateral organisations, Norway has built a workforce that can strengthen its influence and support its humanitarian policy within international humanitarian fora, allowing it to test innovative approaches (such as risk financing) more actively. Managing risks and programmes in crisis environments requires sufficient human capacity in embassies and in Oslo to understand the context, and design and follow up on programmes carefully. Going forward, Norway will need to dedicate sufficient workforce beyond the humanitarian section to understand how fragility can be addressed through a careful mix of development, humanitarian and transition funding.

Results, learning and accountability

Peer review indicator: Results are measured and communicated, and lessons learnt

Norway regularly evaluates its humanitarian assistance, providing useful lessons to adapt its strategies in crisis contexts. Norway has not developed a strong monitoring mechanism, because it relies on a small pool of trusted partners and multilateral agencies to implement its aid. While this small partner base can curtail Norway’s visibility – which is not a particular priority – the organisation of high-level events is raising Norway’s profile.

Evaluation helps design future engagement in crisis contexts

Because it has few humanitarian partners, as well as limited resources and expertise in embassies to monitor humanitarian projects in high-risk environments, Norway’s humanitarian partnership is based on trust and dialogue. Evaluations – such as the evaluation of Norway’s engagement in Afghanistan, which helped design Norway’s approach to fragile contexts (Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence, 2016), as well as other evaluations of humanitarian assistance undertaken by Norad’s Evaluation Department – are used as learning exercises.

A real focus on innovation

Innovation was a key theme at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. It has since then become mainstreamed in the humanitarian sector and is also a priority in Norway’s humanitarian strategy (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018e). To increase efficiency and the quality of the humanitarian response, Norway nurtures innovation labs and is keen to support pilot projects, allowing partners to take risks and possibly fail if an innovation does not scale up. While the multiplication of pilot projects may not dramatically improve humanitarian efficiency in the short-term, it is improving the relationship between an inward-looking humanitarian sector and the private sector. Norway’s efforts to foster innovation in protection, green humanitarian response and cash response through a dedicated platform for humanitarian innovation6 and a dedicated innovation fund7 help to broaden the range of actors in the humanitarian sector.

High-level events raise Norway’s profile

As Norway’s humanitarian assistance is mainly disbursed through multilateral channels, its options for communication are limited to specific funding announcements through media events or press releases. While Norway focuses on aid efficiency more than on its own visibility, it is addressing this challenge by hosting relevant events in Oslo, such as the donor conference for Nigeria and the Lake Chad region in 2017, or the Global Financing Facility replenishment conference in 2018. This is a good way to raise Norway’s profile as a donor, both for the public and in international development circles.


Government sources

Government of Norway (2017), “Common Responsibility for Common Future: The Sustainable Development Goals and Norway's Development Policy – Report to the Storting (white paper)”, Meld. St. 24, English summary, Government of Norway, Oslo,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018a), Strategy for Norway’s efforts in the Sahel region 2018-2020,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018b), “Priority given to countries affected by conflict and fragility, humanitarian assistance, and human rights,” press release, 8 October 2018, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018c), “Statement at extraordinary ministerial conference in support of UNRWA”, speech by State Secretary Audun Halvorsen, Rome,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018d), “2018 Grand Bargain Annual Self-Reporting – Norway”, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018e), Norway’s humanitarian strategy, an effective and integrated approach, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oslo,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018f), “Norway provides NOK 1.68 billion to UN humanitarian fund (CERF)”, press release,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2018g), “NOK 30 million to new humanitarian innovation programme, press release,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2017), “Strategic framework for Norway’s engagement in conflict prevention, stabilisation and resilience building”, (In Norwegian).

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2016), “Norway intensifies efforts in fragile states and regions”, press release,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2015) “Oslo Conference on Safe Schools”,

Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2011), “Assistance to Norwegians abroad - Report to the Storting (white paper)”, Meld. St. 12 (2010–2011),

Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence (2016), A Good Ally: Norway in Afghanistan 2001-2014, Official Norwegian Reports NOU 2016: 8, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Norwegian Ministry of Defence, Oslo,

Norad (2017), Norwegian Aid Statistics, (accessed on 13 November 2018).

Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kampala (2017), “Uganda hosts Solidarity Summit on Refugees”, press release,

Other sources

European Union External Action (2017), European joint strategy in support of Palestine 2017-2020, Towards a democratic and accountable Palestinian State, European Union External Action, Brussels,

Financial Tracking Service (2018), humanitarian aid contributions: (accessed on 10 October 2018).

Norwegian Refugee Council (2017), NORCAP Annual Report 2017, Norwegian Refugee Council, Oslo,

OECD (2018), States of Fragility 2018, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2013), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review: Norway 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2017a), Creditor Reporting System (CRS) (database), (accessed on 17 December 2018).

OECD.Stat (2017b), data visualisation:

World Bank (2018), World Bank data, (accessed on 10 October 2018).


← 1. Norway and the UNHCR are partnering in Uganda to respond to the needs of South Sudanese refugees (Royal Norwegian Embassy in Kampala, 2017).

← 2. In low income countries, only 13.6% of individuals use the internet (World Bank, 2018).

← 3. For more about the International Humanitarian Partnership:

← 4. More about the Norwegian civil protection deployment and mechanisms on the Norwegian Civil Defence webpage:

← 5. The Government Crisis Council is responsible for the strategic co-ordination of complex crises. It assesses which ministry should lead the response, and ensures that the measures implemented are closely coordinated and that information to the media, the general public and others is clear and consistent. The permanent members of the crisis council are the Secretaries-General of the Prime Minister’s Office, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Health and Care Services. The crisis council has a coordinating role, but the competent ministry still has decision-making authority regarding individual matters in crisis situations. The ministry that is designated to lead the response serves as a secretariat for the crisis council and is assisted in this task by the government’s crisis support unit (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2011).

← 6. More about the Humanitarian Innovation Lab:

← 7. In 2018, NOK 30 million (USD 3.6 million) were allocated to the humanitarian innovation programme (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2018g).

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