1. Humanitarian assistance improves conditions but does not cover all basic needs

Most people surveyed say that humanitarian assistance does not meet their most important needs. For households affected by crises, humanitarian assistance is an important, but generally fluctuating, element of their income. Even the most vulnerable need to complement it with other sources, including taking on more debt. The success of humanitarian assistance does not depend exclusively on volumes of funding. The survey suggests that the quality of the response and local authorities’ management of the crisis are critical elements in recipient satisfaction. Meeting people’s most important needs in a crisis therefore requires a thorough vulnerability analysis to understand household economies and the constraints they face, in order to combine humanitarian assistance with actions or programmes that enhance income generation and preserve assets.

    

Key messages

  • For people affected by crises, humanitarian aid helps to cover a portion of their needs – but people need to complement it with other sources of income.

  • Meting people’s needs does not only depend on donors’ investments. Other factors are critical, such as the quality of local authorities’ management of the crisis and the quality of the humanitarian response.

Humanitarian response helps mitigate some of the problems faced by people affected by crises, notably by distributing items such as food or shelter or delivering services such as health or education. In many places, humanitarian assistance improves food availability and the quality of medical treatment beyond what was previously available (Wake and Bryant, 2018[1]). Yet, most people affected by crises cannot live on humanitarian assistance alone. Where they have been conducted, household economy analyses or global vulnerability assessments demonstrate that while humanitarian assistance is an important, and often the primary, source of household income, it is rarely the only source (UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, 2018[2]). For people affected by crises, humanitarian assistance is only one part of what they need to sustain their families (Barbelet, 2017[3]).

For example, the surveys that form the basis of this report (see Annex A)1 show that on average only 26% of people report that humanitarian assistance mostly or completely meets their needs, while 51% of respondents, on average, state that humanitarian assistance does not, or does “not very much”, meet their needs (Figure 1.1). Throughout the two rounds of surveys and across countries, cash, food and health were mentioned as the main unmet needs. The distribution of those needs depends on the context.

In Lebanon, for example, the main cash assistance programme provides up to USD 175 per month for a family of five, whereas the survival minimum expenditure basket was estimated at USD 435 when the programme was designed in 2014 (LCC, 2017[4]). In Bangladesh and Haiti, the distribution of in-kind food and non-food items alone is never sufficient to meet what a family needs. The same scope of unmet needs is also apparent in other refugee contexts, such as Turkey (CaLP, 2017[5]).

Figure 1.1. Does the assistance you receive cover your most important needs?
Figure 1.1. Does the assistance you receive cover your most important needs?

Note: Figures reflect respondents’ perceptions in survey round 2 (2017-2018). The evolution of mean scores reflects a negative or positive evolution since round 1 (2016-2017). The bar charts show the percentage of respondents who selected each answer option. The mean scores are calculated based on reported responses using a Likert scale from 1 to 5. Some numbers cannot be added up to exactly 100%, as graphs show rounded percentages without decimals, therefore distorting the relative frequencies between answer options.

Source: (OECD, 2019[6]), Humanitarian perception surveys, Round 1 (2016-2017) and round 2 (2017-2018).

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933952235

That most affected households cannot live on humanitarian assistance alone is important to take into consideration when analysing overall vulnerabilities and programming response to a crisis. People affected by crisis, including refugees, will have to find additional income to cover their financial needs. These other sources of income are mainly initial savings, remittances and gainful employment (Figure 1.2). Those whose initial savings are exhausted, who do not have other sources of income and cannot match income with expenses will resort to debt and to traditional negative coping mechanisms, such as de-schooling, early marriage or child labour, pushing households deeper into poverty and affecting food security and nutritional status (De Vriese, 2006[7]). In Lebanon, for example, 88% of Syrian refugee households are indebted and 51% live below the survival minimum expenditure basket of USD 2.90 per day (UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, 2018[2]).

Figure 1.2. Households can quickly become indebted in crises
Figure 1.2. Households can quickly become indebted in crises

Source: OECD, adapted from The Household Economy Approach: A guide for programme planners and policy-makers, (Holzmann et al., 2008[8])

Meeting needs does not only depend on donor investment

Donor funding is a critical part of the humanitarian response, and the volume of assistance has a direct impact on humanitarian actors’ ability to meet people’s needs. However, there is not an automatic correlation between the level of aid to a specific crisis and recipient perceptions that their most important needs are being met (Figure 1.3). The context and the modalities of assistance delivery play an important role. For example, the surveys show a sharp satisfaction increase in Haiti between the two rounds of surveys, from 11% to 55%, despite a decrease in humanitarian funding. This underlines the importance of other aid features, such as co-ordination. After Hurricane Matthew in 2016, co-ordination of the humanitarian sector was slow to get started, explaining partly, in the complex Haitian context, the initial piecemeal humanitarian response (Grünewald and Schnenkenberg, 2016[9]). When the cluster system was put in place and humanitarian co-ordination started to have a positive impact on assistance delivery, including on shelter provision, people were significantly more positive. Countries’ policies and the way local authorities deal with a crisis also make a difference: in Lebanon, overall perception about assistance and living condition decreased drastically between the two rounds of surveys, from 59% to 79% of respondents saying that humanitarian assistance does not cover their most important needs at all or not very much. This was despite the fact that although humanitarian funding started to decrease, large-scale cash assistance programmes were maturing. Perceptions of assistance also reflect the rising tensions between Syrians and host communities, driven by the reluctance of the Lebanese authorities to allow for a durable solution or the economic integration of refugees (Nassar and Stel, 2019[10]).

Figure 1.3. Levels of aid do not always correlate with recipient satisfaction
Figure 1.3. Levels of aid do not always correlate with recipient satisfaction

Note: Bangladesh was only surveyed only in round 2. The mean scores are calculated based on reported responses using a Likert scale from 1 to 5

Source: (OECD, n.d.[11]) Creditor Reporting System, (https://stats.oecd.org/) and (OECD, 2019[6]), Humanitarian perception surveys, round 1 (2016-2017) and round 2 (2017-2018).

 StatLink https://doi.org/10.1787/888933952254

To conclude, humanitarian assistance provides lifesaving assistance and protection, improving the living conditions of people affected by crisis. However, these people see humanitarian assistance as a varying part of their livelihood. This perception is not only linked to finance, and more humanitarian money will not automatically increase aid effectiveness if other obstacles remain. The way the humanitarian sector organises itself for a coherent response also matters, and efforts to improve the sector’s effectiveness, in the framework of the Grand Bargain (Agenda for Humanity, 2016[12]) and other commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit, should continue. Importantly, the local political, security and legal context will determine people’s ability to access a variety of income sources, including humanitarian assistance. Contextual analysis that puts people’s economic situation at the core should be conducted regularly in order to combine humanitarian assistance with actions or programmes that make income generation accessible and that preserve people’s assets.

References

[12] Agenda for Humanity (2016), “The Grand Bargain - A shared commitment to better serve people in need”, https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/grand_bargain_final_22_may_final-2_0.pdf (accessed on 28 February 2018).

[3] Barbelet, V. (2017), “Livelihood strategies of Central African refugees in Cameroon”, ODI, London, https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/11371.pdf (accessed on 4 April 2019).

[5] CaLP (2017), Turkey — Cash Barometer, https://www.cashbarometer.org/turkey#turkey-survey (accessed on 16 April 2019).

[7] De Vriese, M. (2006), Refugee Livelihoods: A Review of the Evidence, UNHCR, Geneva, https://www.unhcr.org/4423fe5d2.pdf (accessed on 4 April 2019).

[9] Grünewald, F. and E. Schnenkenberg (2016), Real Time Evaluation: Response to Hurricane Matthew in Haiti, Groupe URD and HERE - Geneva, https://www.urd.org/IMG/pdf/Report_-_RTE_Haiti-MD.pdf (accessed on 4 April 2019).

[8] Holzmann, P. et al. (2008), The Household Economy Approach: A guide for programme planners and policy-makers, Save the Children, London, https://fscluster.org/sites/default/files/documents/hea-guide-for-programme-policy-makers.pdf (accessed on 4 April 2019).

[4] LCC (2017), Lessons Learned from Large Scale Cash-programming in Lebanon, Lebanon Cash Consortium, http://www.cashlearning.org/downloads/user-submitted-resources/2017/12/1512137469.LCC%20-%20Lessons%20Learned%202014%20-%202017.pdf (accessed on 16 April 2019).

[10] Nassar, J. and N. Stel (2019), “Lebanon’s response to the Syrian Refugee crisis – Institutional ambiguity as a governance strategy”, Political Geography, Vol. 70, pp. 44-54, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/J.POLGEO.2019.01.005.

[6] OECD (2019), Humanitarian Surveys, http://www.oecd.org/dac/conflict-fragility-resilience/humanitarian-financing/humanitarian-surveys.htm.

[11] OECD (n.d.), Creditor Reporting System (database), OECD, Paris, https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=crs1.

[2] UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, G. (2018), Vulnerability Assessment of Syrian Refugees in Lebanon, UNHCR, UNICEF, WFP, https://data2.unhcr.org/en/documents/download/67380 (accessed on 16 April 2019).

[1] Wake, C. and J. Bryant (2018), “Capacity and complementarity in the Rohingya response in Bangladesh”, ODI, London, https://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/resource-documents/12554.pdf (accessed on 4 April 2019).

Notes

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