Chapter 7. Sweden’s humanitarian assistance

This chapter looks at how Sweden 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.

Sweden has a strong humanitarian tradition and actively works to drive a more efficient, principled and co-ordinated humanitarian system at the global level. Its policies and strategies are aligned to its international commitments, and Sweden is making good progress in ensuring greater coherence among its development, humanitarian and peace work. Organisational reforms and a more coherent approach to risk and resilience analysis are driving a more joined-up approach. These should be built upon.

Sweden has strengthened the quality of its partnerships with the humanitarian community, notably with more multiyear framework agreements that provide much-needed predictability for its partners engaged in protracted crises.


Strategic framework

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

Sweden remains a major humanitarian player who helps to shape the global humanitarian policy landscape. Its policies and strategies are aligned to delivering on Sweden’s international humanitarian commitments, and steps have been taken to improve the coherence of its humanitarian, development and peace building work. The humanitarian assistance budget, following a decrease in 2015, is now on the rise again.

Sweden’s policy framework and humanitarian strategy seek to deliver on the World Humanitarian Summit’s outcomes

Responding to humanitarian needs remains a priority for Sweden, reaffirmed in its Policy Framework for Swedish Development and Humanitarian Assistance (Government of Sweden, 2016). The policy is aligned to the commitments Sweden made at the World Humanitarian Summit, including the Grand Bargain.1 Evident also is a clear focus on driving a needs-based, effective and efficient humanitarian system; upholding international humanitarian law; and co-ordinating better with the development community. These priorities are reflected in Sweden’s updated humanitarian strategy (Government of Sweden, 2017a).

Sweden actively engages at the global level to improve the humanitarian system and played a major role in advancing the Grand Bargain. It uses its voice within the United Nations (UN) to ensure greater co-ordination across UN agencies on humanitarian matters, and is an active champion of the UN Resident/Humanitarian Coordinator roles and the UN’s New Way of Working (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018a).

Policies and strategies support coherence among Sweden’s humanitarian, development and peace building work

Sweden is fully aware that humanitarian assistance cannot be a quick fix to crises-induced needs, but must be part of a broader global response to fragility. Its policy framework and its humanitarian and sustainable peace strategies all call for greater coherence and a closer interplay among humanitarian assistance, long-term development co-operation, peace building and political dialogue in crisis contexts (Government Offices of Sweden, 2017).

Sida’s pioneering work on risk and resilience analysis in countries affected by conflict and fragility is helping staff to deliver on this ambition. For example, Sweden has applied a resilience systems analysis, developed with the OECD, across six crisis countries (MacLeman, Malik-Miller and Marty, 2016). This analysis, along with other work, is enabling Sida staff to seek out synergies between the agency’s humanitarian assistance and development work, elevate its conflict perspective across programming, and focus its development aid on addressing the root causes of crises (Annex C).

Sida also regularly analyses the humanitarian-development nexus, identifying opportunities and challenges for strengthening this nexus in the 16 countries where Sida has ongoing development co-operation and humanitarian work (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018a). Sweden has adopted a broad development strategy in Syria, for example, that enables the humanitarian budget to focus more firmly on its primary life-saving mandate, which is good practice (Government Offices of Sweden, 2016a). Sweden is also increasing its development assistance allocated to peace-building objectives in recognition of the need to address root causes of conflict.2 As noted in Chapter 2 and 4 and as seen in Liberia, bringing the Folke Bernadotte Academy closer to Sweden’s development engagement in fragile contexts is also good practice.

Humanitarian aid budget is increasing

Sweden’s humanitarian budget is on the rise again, following a drop in 2015 that was due to a spike in in-donor refugee costs.3 Sweden’s humanitarian official development assistance (ODA) more than doubled from 2015 to 2017, rising from USD 128.2 million in 2015 to USD 382.7 million in 2017 (OECD, 2017).

In a reflection of its commitment to strengthening the effectiveness and normative function of UN agencies, Sweden is a significant provider of core support to UN humanitarian agencies, which received 42% of its overall support to humanitarian multilateral agencies in 2018.4

The largest share of Sweden’s humanitarian funding is channelled by Sida and goes to UN partners and the ICRC in the form of softly earmarked, non-core contributions. The share allocated to civil society has decreased since the last review (Figure 7.1). These two different channels allow Sida to decide more precisely where to allocate a large part of its funding, making the most of its needs-based humanitarian allocation tool

Figure 7.1. Sweden’s channels for its humanitarian assistance
Figure 7.1. Sweden’s channels for its humanitarian assistance

Source: Openaid (n.d.), “Sweden’s aid to the world via all organisations for emergency response 2011” (database),

Effective programme design

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

Sweden’s humanitarian aid is driven by a comprehensive needs-based allocation model that also enables it to engage in forgotten crises. Sweden has put in place safeguards to uphold the humanitarian principles while it engages in crisis contexts.

Sweden’s needs-based allocation model allows it to engage in forgotten crises

In determining its humanitarian priorities, Sida does not consider its development co-operation priorities in crisis contexts, as Sweden believes the humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence and in particular impartiality are better served with autonomous needs assessment and programming. An elaborated needs-based allocation model allows Sida to also engage in crises, including forgotten crises where it has no specific political or development interests; an example is the Central African Republic, which is not a partner country but which benefits from Sweden’s humanitarian assistance. 5

In conflict-driven, protracted crises, acknowledging that humanitarian assistance is one of Sweden’s instruments for responding to crisis would not infringe upon the humanitarian principles. Sida’s humanitarian allocation model puts in place solid safeguards to avoid this, and Sweden continues to maintain a strong policy focus on upholding international humanitarian law (Government of Sweden, 2016). Building on Sweden’s solid work on resilience analysis (Chapter 2), operationalising the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) recommendation on the nexus (OECD, 2019) will allow Sweden to pragmatically determine which financial instrument is the most appropriate to respond to people’s needs in crisis contexts.

Localising aid

Sweden is committed under the Grand Bargain agreement to working more with local civil society and vulnerable groups, and it has introduced an ambition to localise its aid in its updated humanitarian strategy (Government of Sweden, 2017a). However, like most DAC members, Sweden does not support directly local aid responders. One way that Sweden is fulfilling its commitment, though, is through its support to UN-led Country-based Pooled Funds, a large source of direct funding for national and local actors. Sweden was the third-largest donor in the period 2014-18 (UN OCHA, 2019). Additionally, Sweden is also the fourth-largest donor to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement programmes, including through the Swedish Red Cross, representing a significant support to local humanitarian actors (IFRC, 2018).

Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments

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

Sweden has adopted a new approach to addressing protracted crisis and recovery, which is enabling Sweden to use a mix of instruments to meet needs and also to respond to rapidly evolving crises. Sweden has also enhanced the long-term predictability of its aid, strengthening further a mature partnership with humanitarian actors. This should allow its humanitarian assistance to increasingly be part of a coherent response that also mobilises development co-operation and peace building, in line with the conflict perspective of its development co-operation programming.

A strengthened effort to tackle protracted crises and recovery

In order to meet needs in protracted crisis or in fragile contexts, Sida has designed an approach that enables coherence between its humanitarian and development engagement based on three main pillars (IASC, 2017):

1. Common analysis, planning and programming based on risk, vulnerability and resilience;

For Sida, this point means that the two different analysis/planning and programming tools that are used in humanitarian and development respectively are in part informed by each other to allow synergies when possible. Humanitarian staff provide input in development country strategies and development staff are similarly included in parts of the humanitarian analysis. These cross-cutting contributions enable complementarities, particularly in relation to when a humanitarian programme can be converted to a development programme, which allows for phasing out humanitarian support. Yet the element of separability between humanitarian and development programming is of crucial importance as it ensures that the humanitarian allocation is truly based on the contextual humanitarian situation and the exact needs of its population.

2. A flexible, innovative and effective funding for the most vulnerable people;

For Sida, this means for example that the agency has a number of funding tools covering various phases of a certain development in a country. From the most rapid form of support; the humanitarian Rapid Response Mechanism (in 24 hours) to long term multi-year programmes in development cooperation.

3. An increased dialogue and coordination on risk, resilience and synergies between humanitarian and development.

Such a dialogue enables Sida to use both its development and humanitarian funding to help address both acute humanitarian needs as well as long-term needs at the same time. For example, tackling malnutrition in the Sahel both through humanitarian assistance (with focus on severe acute malnutrition) and through increased food security (through the support of development strategies to areas such as farming). This approach also helps keeping the humanitarian funding to first and foremost prioritize emergency needs, which is good practice.

Since 2013, Sweden has also put in place mechanisms to increase the predictability of its humanitarian assistance, carrying out the 2013 DAC peer review recommendation (OECD, 2013). In adopting a pioneering approach and driven by its firm commitment to the importance of long-term partnerships, Sweden is increasingly providing multiyear frameworks with its UN humanitarian partners, providing up to 80% of the annual allocation during the first quarter of the year and the remaining 20% over the course of the year. This is good practice and in line with Sweden’s Grand Bargain’s commitments. Sweden’s non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners increasingly also are benefiting from such frameworks.

An array of rapid response tools and mechanisms are in place

Sida disburses so called unallocated funding to partner organizations intended for rapid response. Approximately 13% of Sida’s total humanitarian funding was set aside for this purpose in 2017 (Government Offices of Sweden, 2018a). This unearmarked funding can reach 25% during the year through additional disbursements made from Sida’s humanitarian reserve. In case of extra needs, Sida also has the possibility to exceed its budget with up to 10%, drawn from its budget for the following year.

Further demonstrating responsiveness, Sida has also designed a Rapid Response Mechanism, a framework agreement that allows its NGO partner organisations to receive funds within one day after a proposal is accepted. Sida has a similar rapid response mechanism for use with individual multilateral organisations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Sweden remains a long-standing major contributor to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and was the third-largest donor to CERF in 2018 (UN CERF, 2019).

A mature partnership with the humanitarian community

Sweden has a mature partnership with the humanitarian community that goes beyond funding. As an active member of its multilateral partners’ boards, Sweden uses its voice to help to shape the multilateral architecture. Sweden also has regular dialogue with its humanitarian NGO partners. Some smaller civil society actors, however, feel left in a so-called “missing middle” as their projects are often too small to be funded directly by Sida, but too big to enter in a sub-partnership with bigger NGOs. While this issue of medium-sized projects is not exclusive to Sweden, it could be recognised that such projects can have a great impact in crisis contexts, for instance on advocacy, a rights-based approach and/or humanitarian access.

Sida uses the UN agencies and ICRC’s appeals systems as the basis for its allocation to these organisations, and also uses their reporting systems. This is a very concrete operationalisation of Sweden’s Grand Bargain commitments to alleviate administrative burdens when no additional project proposals or reports are needed. In a similar fashion, Sida is piloting a programme-based approach (PBA) with three CSO-partners. The PBA provides significant flexibility to partners since the contribution is not earmarked below the partner’s country programme and budget.

Sweden is actively engaged in co-ordination with other donors, UN and local systems

Sweden supports a co-ordinated humanitarian response. It supports the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) with flexible funding (UN OCHA, 2017) and, since 2018, with a multiyear funding framework. Such funding helps UN OCHA to establish humanitarian co-ordination mechanisms as crises arise. As a European Union (EU) member, Sweden also participates in joint programming exercises, which is a good sign of Sweden’s efforts to increase donor co-ordination and in line with the DAC recommendation on the nexus (OECD, 2019).

Organisation fit for purpose

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

A new department looking after conflict, humanitarian and migration issues at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is beginning to increase coherence in Sweden’s engagement in crisis contexts, and closer links with the Folke Bernadotte Academy and Sida make Sweden’s structure fit for providing an efficient and coherent response to crises. As country strategies are updated, links with humanitarian assistance could be spelled out further.

Enhanced structures for co-ordination

Since the last peer review, Sweden has established a new department at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs responsible for conflict, humanitarian and migration issues. The department is allowing Sweden to have a central structure for crisis management covering its diplomatic, peace, development co-operation and humanitarian efforts, and is a positive development. At the same time, Sweden has taken a series of steps to improve co-ordination among the MFA, Sida and the Folke Bernadotte Academy, the government’s agency for peace, security and development in fragile and crisis contexts. Together, these changes are improving the coherence of Sweden’s programming across its actors, as seen in Liberia; they also help Sweden to mobilise the best instrument to reach development or humanitarian objectives in protracted crises. These new arrangements are in line with the DAC recommendation on the nexus. There is now room to further systematise such collaboration.

Humanitarian assistance could be better reflected into upcoming country strategies

In countries that receive humanitarian assistance for decades, articulating clearly the links between humanitarian assistance and other aid streams into the country strategy, in line with the DAC recommendation on humanitarian-development-peace-nexus (OECD, 2019) would help Sweden building a coherent response when relevant. Positive example, in the Somalia strategy (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2018a) or in the Middle East strategy (Ministry for Foreign Affairs, 2016) are the basis for expanding this approach, which now could be extended further as country strategies are renewed.

Results, learning and accountability

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

Sweden makes good use of decentralised evaluations within its humanitarian programming and uses these to learn and improve its approach.

Field presence and evaluations increase Sweden’s knowledge base

Sida carries out an evaluation of its humanitarian assistance strategy at the end of each cycle and uses the findings to inform its future work (Sida, 2016). The 2016 evaluation of Sida’s humanitarian assistance, which was largely positive, recommended, amongst other things, that Sida better define indicators against the strategy goals in order to be able to more effectively measure its performance. In the implementation of the current humanitarian strategy, Sida has made efforts to sharpen the indicators it uses for measuring its performance, in response to this evaluation (Government of Sweden, 2017a). Future evaluations could assess the results of Sweden’s integrated approach in addressing long-term needs, which would be a way for Sweden to monitor its operationalisation of the DAC recommendation on the nexus. Through Sida and its embassy network, Sweden can rely on a solid field presence,6 enabling Sweden to quality assure programmes easily.


Government sources

Government of Sweden (2017a), Strategy for Sweden’s Humanitarian Aid Provided Through the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) 2017-2020”, Appendix to Government Decision of 26 January 2017, Stockholm, contentassets/70eebc1992ae40b69318e430c93aefcf/strategy-for-swedens-humanitarian-aid-provided-through-the-swedish-international-development-cooperation-agency-sida-20172020.pdf.

Government of Sweden (2017b), Grand Bargain Annual Self-Reporting Exercise: Sweden, Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC),

Government of Sweden (2016), Policy Framework for Swedish Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Assistance, Government Communication 22017/17:60, legal-documents/2017/05/policy-framework-for-swedish-development-cooperation-and-humanitarian-assistance/.

Government Offices of Sweden (2018a), DAC Peer Review 2019 - Memorandum of Sweden, September 2018, Stockholm.

Government Offices of Sweden (2018b), Strategy for Sweden’s development cooperation with Somalia 2018–2022, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2017), Strategy for Sustainable Peace 2017-2022, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm, globalassets/government/block/fakta-och-genvagsblock/utrikesdepartementet/sanktioner/strategi-hallbar-fred-eng-slutlig.pdf.

Government Offices of Sweden (2016a), Sweden’s Regional Strategy for the Syria Crisis, 2016-2020, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Government Offices of Sweden (2016b), Regional Strategy for Sweden’s Development Cooperation with the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) 2016–2020, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Stockholm,

Sida (2016) Evaluation of Sida’s Humanitarian Assistance Final Report, Stockholm,

Sida (2015), “Embassies with Sida staff”, Sida website,

Other sources

Agenda for Humanity (2016), “Individual and joint commitments, Sweden”, website,

IASC (2016), The Grand Bargain in a Nutshell, Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) website,

IFRC (2018), Voluntary contributions in 2018, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) website,

MacLeman, H., A. Malik-Miller and L. Marty (2016), Resilience Systems Analysis: Learning & Recommendations Report, OECD Publishing/Sida, Paris/Stockholm, _Recommendationsreport.pdf.

Mowjee, T. et al. (2016), Evaluation of Sida’s Humanitarian Assistance, Sida, Stockholm,

OECD (2019), “DAC recommendation on humanitarian-development-peace-nexus”, pending approval by the Senior Level Meeting, 22 February 2019, OECD Publishing, Paris

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

OECD (2017), “Creditor Reporting System” (database), DataSetCode=crs1 (accessed 24 January 2019).

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

UN CERF (2019), “2018 top donors”, website, United Nations Central Emergency Fund, (accessed 8 January 2019).

UN OCHA (2019), “CBPF Contributions”, CBPF Grant Management System - Business Intelligence website, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), New York, (accessed 11 January 2019).

UN OCHA (2017), OCHA’s Use of Flexible Funding 2017, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), New York,


← 1. The Grand Bargain is an agreement among more than 30 of the biggest donors and aid providers; it includes a series of changes to the working practices of donors and aid organisations that aim to increase aid effectiveness and to address funding gaps in the humanitarian sector. For information on the Grand Bargain, see

← 2. Peacebuilding expenditure increased from USD 744 million to USD 804 million between 2013 and 2017 ( Peacebuilding expenditures and purpose codes are available in the OECD report, States of Fragility 2018,

← 3. In-donor refugee costs increased sharply from 2014 to 2015, rising to USD 2.4 billion from USD 911 million. This had an impact on the humanitarian budget. In 2017, in-donor refugee costs stabilised to USD 808 million.

← 4. The share of Sweden’s core support to humanitarian multilateral agencies has remained stable since 2013, ranging between 42% and 46% of its overall multilateral support. This information was provided in an exchange with the Ministry for Foreign Affairs on 20 December 2018.

← 5. In particular, the principle of impartiality has strongly influenced the allocation tool. Therefore, Sida´s allocation methodology is grounded in several objective indicators such as; the scale (number of people) of humanitarian needs, the severity of humanitarian needs (including food insecurity/IPC levels), the number of people targeted for the humanitarian response, the financial coverage of respective humanitarian appeal, national capacities to respond and underlying risks, as well as distinct indicators related to forgotten crises.

← 6. In 2015, Sida staff were present in 40 of Sweden’s embassies, according to Sida’s website at 15 of these embassies were in countries receiving Sweden humanitarian funds in 2015. The Folke Bernadotte Academy also deploys experts in crisis areas.

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