copy the linklink copied!7. Italy’s humanitarian assistance

This chapter looks at how Italy minimises the impact of shocks and crises, and works to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain human dignity during crises and disasters.

In 2017, Italy was the 11th largest DAC humanitarian donor, a significant increase since the last peer review. Italy is recognised for its capacity to respond rapidly to natural disasters. In fragile contexts, it has a rich and recognised experience in humanitarian interventions, based notably on a dense network of small to medium-size CSOs that have built solid partnerships in their countries of operation. This unique feature is a clear comparative advantage for Italy, giving it the scope to build a specific Italian approach to the humanitarian-development-peace nexus, based on local partnerships. However, this will require Italy to adapt its rigid administrative framework to crisis contexts.


copy the linklink copied!Strategic framework

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Peer review indicator:

Clear political directives and strategies for resilience, response and recovery

Humanitarian assistance is a priority in Italy’s policy framework. However, policy documents still reflect a linear approach to crises and a sequential approach to humanitarian response, rather than a more holistic approach. The upcoming guidelines on the nexus between humanitarian assistance and development co-operation should help Italy strengthen its analysis and programming in crises, building on its comparative advantage. Italy’s humanitarian budget increase highlights the priority given to humanitarian action, but is primarily explained by Italy’s focus on migration and crises in the Middle East, with little predictability over its budget trajectory in the long run.

Italy takes a sequential, rather than holistic, approach to crises

Humanitarian assistance is integrated in Law 125/2014 (Republic of Italy, 2014[1]) and is a priority in the three-year programming and policy planning document (Government of Italy, 2017[2]). Both documents define humanitarian assistance as an initial step towards development after a shock. This linear approach to humanitarian assistance can be relevant following natural disasters, yet Italy’s humanitarian aid is primarily mobilised as a response to man-made crises (OpenAID Italy, 2019[3]) where humanitarian needs originate from a complex interaction of social, economic, environmental, political and security crises drivers that do not develop in a linear way. While funding procedures are similar, AICS’s guidelines for bilateral humanitarian aid further compartmentalise humanitarian contexts into three different phases: primary emergency, emergency, and linking relief, rehabilitation, and development (LRRD) (AICS, 2016[4]). This compartmentalisation does not encourage coherent aid in complex crises.

New guidelines on the humanitarian-development-peace nexus are being drafted

Italy is aware that in fragile contexts not all problems have a clear and distinct humanitarian or development solution. Italy has started to develop guidelines, together with civil society and academia, on the nexus between humanitarian aid, development co-operation and peace. This positive initiative will align Italy’s development co-operation with international policies, including the DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, to help build a more comprehensive approach to crises and review how humanitarian assistance can be deployed coherently with its other aid instruments (OECD, 2019[5]). The wide dissemination of Italy’s guidelines, including the conflict and risk analysis tools that are being elaborated alongside them, will allow Italy and its partners to better analyse and select programmes in fragile or crisis contexts.

Italy has identified some of its comparative advantages

As recommended in the 2014 DAC peer review (Annex A), Italy has identified two clear comparative advantages in the humanitarian sector:

  • A strong engagement in disaster risk preparedness, including towards countries particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change through support to different partner activities. This ranges from in-kind prepositioning at the United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi (ONUItalia, 2019[6]) to forecast-based finance with the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC, 2019[7]), in addition to a strong civil protection mechanism.

  • A substantial and long-standing network of Italian CSOs and humanitarian NGOs. Most of these CSOs are small to medium in size but are organised into a variety of networks1 to increase their influence. Many of them are funded through their own resources and through decentralised co-operation, although at much lower levels since the 2008 financial crisis. These CSO partners often stay during crises to provide humanitarian aid, reflecting a model of co-operation based on field knowledge and local partnership, if not scalability.

There is now scope for Italy to hold a formal dialogue with its field and programming staff as well as its partners to determine how it will build on these comparative advantages.

Italy has become the 11th largest humanitarian DAC donor

Italy’s humanitarian budget has more than tripled since 2014 to reach USD 266.3 million in 2017 (Figure 7.1.), making Italy the 11th largest DAC humanitarian donor and meeting Italy’s commitments made at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit. The response to crises in the Middle East, Africa, and to migration flows to Europe, for which Italy remains a primary point of entry (Chapter 1) accounts for a large share of the increase: as is the case for several DAC members, Italy’s contribution to the European Union Facility for Refugees in Turkey represented the main humanitarian budget item in 2016 and 2017.

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Figure 7.1. Italy’s humanitarian assistance budget has grown significantly
Figure 7.1. Italy’s humanitarian assistance budget has grown significantly

Source: OECD Creditor Reporting System, 2019. , accessed 26th June 2019


A special feature of the Italian humanitarian budget is that the allocation from the general budget is complemented every year by an allocation from the peacekeeping mission budget. This budget is rooted in the “international missions’ decree”, approved every year by parliament. This budget is dedicated to countries undergoing a military peacekeeping operation and their immediate neighbours. The geographic scope of the budget line includes EU missions, making it an important source of humanitarian funding for those crisis contexts that are a priority for Italy (Figure 7.2).

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Figure 7.2. Italy’s humanitarian budget is supplemented by the international missions decree
Figure 7.2. Italy’s humanitarian budget is supplemented by the international missions decree

Note: Data provided by Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation (MFAIC) in euros

Source: MFAIC


Although it tops-up the regular humanitarian budget, the supplementary budget is not predictable. Funds allocated through this budget line vary from year to year because the “international missions’ decree” has to be approved annually by parliament. Moreover, the actual budget for international missions is not announced until the middle of the calendar year, well after the rest of the ODA budget. As this budget line covers up to one-third of humanitarian aid, such unpredictability hampers partnerships and prevents Italy from implementing some of its Grand Bargain commitments.

copy the linklink copied!Effective programme design

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Peer review indicator:

Programmes target the highest risk to life and livelihoods

Italy has started to use of its field network more systematically in determining humanitarian needs and in selecting partners. This is a welcome step to ensure Italy’s humanitarian assistance is locally appropriate and coherent with development. As Italy supports innovation in the humanitarian sector, it is well placed to use the long-standing partnerships built between some of its NGOs and local CSOs to start direct support to those local responders it knows well.

Programming is becoming more structured and closer to the field

Like most DAC members, Italy relies primarily on its humanitarian partners’ evaluations and financial appeals to decide where to engage and who to support. European civil protection and humanitarian needs assessment mechanisms also provide additional material for decision making. However, Italy has started to modernise the way it allocates its humanitarian funding, building more on its field presence to determine its allocation decisions. The MFAIC and the AICS now involve Italian embassies and field networks more consistently in assessing humanitarian needs and partners’ ability to meet them. This process, started in 2018, is part of Italy’s endeavour to improve its humanitarian effectiveness. These efforts are also included in the upcoming guidelines on the nexus, and should be encouraged as they allow Italy to make good use of its available expertise and bring a more structured engagement in crisis contexts.

Opportunities in localising aid

In order to meet its commitment on localising aid, Italy increased its support to country-based pooled funds, which are more accessible to domestic humanitarian responders.2 It also encourages Italian NGOs to partner with local CSOs, a practice that has become indispensable in some contexts like Syria where remote management through a local partner has become the norm. Italy’s legislative framework is complex and although calls for proposals for emergency and humanitarian funding take place at the country-level and are now formally open to non-Italian NGOs, red tape prevents localisation of aid in practice.3 As Italian NGOs and CSOs have built long-term partnerships with local partners in some crises contexts, Italy could now go one step further in its risk taking and pilot some direct funding with those long-standing local partners it knows well.

copy the linklink copied!Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments

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Delivery modalities and partnerships help deliver quality assistance

Italy can rely on a well-tested set of rapid response tools, including efficient civil-military co-ordination. In protracted and complex crises, Italy increasingly relies on the multilateral system. While this reflects Italy’s support to multilateralism, it is not making the most of its long experience in crises contexts or its field presence. However, if it wants to build on its dense network of NGOs as its comparative advantage, it will have to modernise the administrative management of its partnership.

A solid set of rapid response tools and mechanisms are in place

Italy has a well-tested emergency response capacity. Notably, its civil protection is part of the European civil protection mechanism (European Commission, 2019[8]) and allows Italy to deploy immediate support abroad.4 Italy also provides in-kind donations through the logistical depot in Brindisi and its associated humanitarian response depot network throughout the world.

As Italy has limited capacity to raise additional funds for its partners during the year, it supports mechanisms that allow the greatest possible flexibility for its partners. For example, Italy’s contribution to the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) increased by 153% between 2014 and 2018 (CERF, 2019[9]), exceeding its World Humanitarian Summit commitments (Agenda for Humanity, 2016[10]). More broadly, humanitarian allocations, including those above the EUR 2 million (USD 2.4 million) threshold, do not have to go through the Joint Committee in order to allow rapid disbursement. This exception to the regulatory procedure is a good way to speed up delivery and meet humanitarian needs in emergencies.

The multilateral system is increasingly preferred for humanitarian aid

While Italy intends to strengthen its overall bilateral aid, the share of humanitarian assistance channelled through the multilateral system continues to increase (Figure 7.3). Italy believes in multilateralism, and supports an array of agencies as well as UN-led humanitarian and transition pooled funds (United Nations, 2019[11]).

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Figure 7.3. The growing importance of the multilateral system in Italy’s humanitarian aid
Figure 7.3. The growing importance of the multilateral system in Italy’s humanitarian aid

Note: The multilateral system grouping is composed of the UN agencies, the World Bank IDA replenishment and the European Institutions.

Source: OECD Creditor Reporting System, accessed 26th June 2019.


The recent increase in the use of multilateral channels is also due to the very high share of Italy’s humanitarian budget dedicated to its contribution to the EU facility for refugees in Turkey. The facility took up to 42% of Italy’s humanitarian budget in 2017, reflecting Italy’s prioritisation of crises in the Middle East and focus on migration. Supporting multilateralism is convenient given AICS’s limited human resources and the burdensome call for proposal mechanism for NGOs. Notwithstanding this support, it would be important for Italy to see how its dense network of CSOs on the ground, specifically in the most fragile contexts, can also still benefit from Italy’s direct support.

copy the linklink copied!Organisation fit for purpose

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Systems, structures, processes and people work together effectively and efficiently

Italy’s expertise and empowered field presence allow it to understand the context and mobilise a humanitarian response that is coherent with development. However, Italy remains constrained by an outdated set of procedures for its NGO partners. These procedures, as well as its linear perception of crises, prevent Italy from making the most of its comparative advantages.

Field presence is one of Italy’s main assets

AICS has 20 country offices, mainly in Africa, and all in priority countries. Italy knows that in fragile contexts, a long-term field presence is essential to build a meaningful partnership. For example, as soon as the situation allowed in 2018, Italy deployed its expert for Eritrea from Khartoum to Asmara. Such a field-oriented approach allows better contextual knowledge and risk analysis. Twenty-eight humanitarian focal points are based in AICS field offices, supported by an additional 28 external experts deployed on a short-term basis from Rome to AICS country offices. As seen in Senegal, Italy’s field expertise makes a valuable contribution to the donor community, notably as part of the EU joint programming exercise (Annex C).

In the MFAIC, six officials, including three diplomats, work in Office VI, which is in charge of humanitarian affairs (Annex D.2). This team interacts with the ten AICS officials working on humanitarian issues in Rome in the emergency and fragility department. The already heavy workload is compounded by the high administrative costs of project management in the Italian system, however.

Decentralisation requires clear rules and procedures

Since humanitarian assistance is increasingly decentralised to the country offices, it opens opportunities for solid dialogue with partner country governments and development or humanitarian partners. AICS country offices have a thorough knowledge of the humanitarian context. However, some partners have reported that such a decentralisation can also lead to a different interpretation of the selection and programming procedure from one country to another. The strengthened programming process that has started, and the upcoming guidelines on the nexus, are opportunities to ensure a more streamlined selection procedure across different contexts.

Procedures for NGOs are to be updated

Italy has not yet adopted a modern set of procedures for its support to NGOs as recommended in the 2014 DAC peer review (OECD, 2014[12]). Italy’s NGO partners have noted some progress, however; for example, Italy has extended the duration of projects funded through its humanitarian calls for proposals from 12 to 36 months. Although consultation and policy dialogue are common practices, heavy bureaucracy and rigid programme and financial management remain major constraints for Italian NGOs (CINI, AOI and Link 2007, 2018[13]). This outdated set of procedures prevents Italy from making the most of its significant expertise in crisis contexts and from building upon the presence of NGO partners that are willing to deliver in even the most challenging contexts (Chapter 7).

Organising calls for proposals for three different funding phases of humanitarian responses (primary emergency, emergency and LRRD) (AICS, 2016[4]) is a time-consuming way to respond to urgent humanitarian needs, particularly in sudden onset crises. Many other DAC members have found ways to streamline procedures for NGO partners to access humanitarian aid, notably through framework partnership agreements or accreditation systems that relieve red tape. In addition, Italian NGO workers are subject to Italian embassies’ security clearance in countries of operation, which has consequences for the ability of Italian NGOs to operate directly in the most challenging geographic areas. The ongoing comprehensive review of AICS’s procedures for CSOs and other stakeholders should help Italy to better adapt its partnership modalities.

copy the linklink copied!Results, learning and accountability

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Results are measured and communicated, and lessons learnt

Despite its monitoring capacity and contextual knowledge in many crisis contexts, knowledge management is a weak point of Italy’s humanitarian system. This is a missed opportunity given Italy’s experience. Regular public events make Italy’s general public aware of Italy’s role as a provider of humanitarian aid.

Knowledge management needs to be built in AICS

Italy does not have a mechanism in place to institutionalise its broad experience in crisis contexts. This is a missed opportunity to use CSO partners’ vast field monitoring data for institutional learning. Building a knowledge management system that integrates AICS’s network of CSOs could help strengthen the agency’s programming in crisis contexts (Chapter 6).

The Italian public is made aware of Italy’s role in providing humanitarian assistance and engagement in crisis contexts through widely publicised forums and events such as the Mediterranean dialogues (MFAIC and ISPI, 2019[14]), the International Co-operation exposition (EXCO, 2019[15]), and joint UN-Italy events such as on innovation (FAO, 2018[16]).


[10] Agenda for Humanity (2016), Agenda for Humanity Commitments - Italy, (accessed on 9 May 2019).

[4] AICS (2016), Linee guida per le iniziative bilaterali di aiuto umanitario, Italian Agency for Development Co-operation, Rome, (accessed on 18 April 2019).

[9] CERF (2019), Contributions to the CERF, United Nations Central Emergency Trust Fund, (accessed on 30 April 2019).

[13] CINI, AOI and Link 2007 (2018), OECD-DAC Peer Review of Italian development system, 2019. Note presented by CINI, AOI and Link 2007, (accessed on 4 June 2019).

[17] Defence, M. (2019), Mozambique: the Italian Armed Forces provide support to the Civil Protection, Ministry of Defence, Rome,

[8] European Commission (2019), EU Civil Protection Mechanism, European Commission, Brussels,

[15] EXCO (2019), Exco | The International Cooperation Expo, (accessed on 24 May 2019).

[2] Government of Italy (2017), Three-year programming and policy planning document, 2017-2019, (accessed on 11 April 2019).

[7] IFRC (2019), Forecast-based financing and forecast based action by the DREF, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, (accessed on 18 April 2019).

[14] MFAIC and ISPI (2019), Rome Med 2019 – Mediterranean Dialogues, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Rome, (accessed on 24 May 2019).

[16] OCHA (2019), CBPF Allocations, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, New York,

[5] OECD (2019), DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus, OECD Legal Instruments, (accessed on 10 April 2019).

[12] OECD (2014), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: Italy 2014, OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[6] ONUItalia (2019), “Del Re at UN post in Brindisi, “Italy is proud to be host country” - OnuItalia”, (accessed on 18 April 2019).

[3] OpenAID Italy (2019), Italian Development Cooperation - Humanitarian Aid, (accessed on 10 May 2019).

[1] Republic of Italy (2014), Law no. 125 of 11 August 2014 - Unofficial translation, (accessed on 12 April 2019).

[11] United Nations (2019), Contributor/Partner Factsheet - ITALY, (accessed on 9 May 2019).


← 1. Five main networks group up to 178 CSOs: Coordinamento Italiano NGO Internazionali (CINI), Federazione degli Organismi Cristiani Servizio Internazionale Volontario (FOCSIV), Coordinamento delle Organizzazioni non governative per la Cooperazione Internazionale allo Sviluppo (COCIS), Coordinamento di Iniziative Popolari di Solidarietà Internazionale (CIPSI) and LINK2007.

← 2. Italy increased its contribution to country-based pooled funds (CBPFs) to EUR 2.5 million donated in 2018 (Turkey, Jordan, West Bank and Gaza Strip) and up to EUR 6.5 million in 2019 to support the activities of 5 CBPF (Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Iraq). In 2018, 25% of UN country-based pooled funds were allocated to national NGOs (OCHA, 2019[16]).

← 3. If the NGO does not have an operational headquarters in Italy, it must provide proof of a prior agreement (affiliation, association, or partnership) with one of the organisations that feature on the registry and it must also comply with the legislation in force in the country of origin.

← 4. As in March 2019 in response to Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, where it used both civilian and military assets in a well-co-ordinated manner (Defence, 2019[17])

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7. Italy’s humanitarian assistance