Chapter 7. Korea’s humanitarian assistance

Strategic framework

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

Korea is starting to exploit its potential in a context of increased ambition for its humanitarian aid. However, its field network capacity and its rich partnerships could be better supported by a clear policy and strategic implementation plan. Korea’s humanitarian assistance tends to be thinly spread over many crises and its impact on the affected populations is not clear. Going forward, Korea could revise its strategic documents in line with its priorities and back up its commitment with more predictable funds.

Korea is adapting its humanitarian aid to complex crises and would benefit from an updated strategy to reflect this

Korea’s humanitarian aid is governed by the 2014 Overseas Emergency Relief Act (GoK, 2014), which outlines how Korea responds to emergencies overseas – mainly natural or health disasters or large-scale incidents. However, Korea increasingly responds to man-made and protracted humanitarian crisis, which are not included in the Act, meaning that the Act does not reflect the reality of Korea’s humanitarian aid response. Korea’s 2015 humanitarian strategy broadens the definition of humanitarian crises to include complex and conflict-related contexts (GoK, 2015a). It also outlines Korea’s intention to strengthen its role within the international humanitarian system. Achieving its ambition for a stronger international role will require Korea to better define how it can add value, notably in protracted crises, and to develop a model linking emergency response with post-disaster development work. For example it could build on its recent experience in Nepal,1 where Korea designed a long-term strategy for restoring resilient health system infrastructure (KOICA, 2017).

Although it does adhere to the Good Humanitarian Donorship principles (GHD, 2003), Korea does not feel in a position to adhere to the Grand Bargain (GB, 2016) until it is in a position to deliver on all of its provisions. Joining the group of like-minded donors supporting the Grand Bargain could help Korea to strengthen its policy work.

Finally, Korea’s humanitarian strategy states that humanitarian aid is a way to exercise Korea’s responsibility as a middle-power (GoK, 2015a). This means that Korea aims at providing humanitarian aid in line with its capacity and expertise. Korea could consider revising its humanitarian strategy to clarify its needs-based approach to humanitarian aid and its support for the Good Humanitarian Donorship principles and to reflect the pragmatic and responsive approach to humanitarian funding which is already in place.

Replicating Korea’s approach in Nepal could help build resilience in high-risk states

Korea sees resilience building as a way to incorporate development elements into its humanitarian assistance (GoK, 2017). Doing so in protracted crises could rapidly consume Korea’s small humanitarian budget, however, leaving fewer resources for emergency humanitarian assistance. Resilience can instead be built when development programmes are designed to absorb shocks and are flexible enough to adapt to evolving needs during crises, or when humanitarian response and development aid are carefully linked together. Resilience building would need to be a standard part of the country partnership strategy in fragile states, especially where risks are high. The Nepal experience2 could be replicated in these partner countries.

Korea could be more dynamic in using its emergency reserve

Korea’s humanitarian budget increased in 2017, following two consecutive years of expansion, reflecting a real commitment to increasing its role in this sector. In 2017, the humanitarian budget is USD 75 million, up from USD 39.8 million in 2016 – an 88% increase. Although humanitarian aid still represented only 2.6% of Korean ODA in 2014-15, well below the DAC average of 11.8%,3 Korea remains focused on its original long-term objective of allocating 6% ODA to humanitarian activities (GoK, 2015b). Moreover, Korea could complement its emergency response with the KOICA development budget to address post-emergency needs and disaster risk reduction activities following a natural disaster. Financing emergency preparedness from the humanitarian budget and disaster risk reduction activities from the development budget is good practice.

Korea puts aside some 20% of its humanitarian budget as an emergency reserve for unforeseen events, and can also access supplementary funds if needs exceed this reserve. If the emergency reserve funds are still available at the end of the year, Korea uses them to complement its annual commitment to under-funded crises, which is good funding practice. As its budget increases, Korea could make more dynamic use of its internal humanitarian reserve. For example, it could explore how to support emergency preparedness through forecast-based funding to countries at risk of regular disasters, as disaster preparedness is an area in which Korea has built solid expertise. In doing so, Korea would have better visibility on its spending earlier in the year, while reassuring partners that help is available ahead of likely crises.

Effective programme design

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

Korea’s variety of partnerships (multilateral, NGOs, civil protection, direct government support) is an important part of its natural disaster response. Korea could add more value to this response through meaningful contributions to disaster preparedness. Wisely, Korea engages through the multilateral system in protracted crises where it has less experience and field presence. In order to remain efficient given its capacity limits, any increase in budget should not automatically be translated into more programmes. Instead, Korea could be more effective and improve impact by focusing on those protracted crises where it can add value, and where its multilateral efforts can be combined coherently with, for example, targeted support to national or local efforts.

Focusing on fewer crises in a more integrated way could make Korea’s aid more effective

As its humanitarian aid is mainly distributed through multilateral channels,4 Korea relies heavily on the multilateral system and on UN appeals to determine the scale of its response to crisis. This is in line with the strategic priority that Korea gives to Level 3 emergencies5 (GoK, 2015a). It also allows Korea to respond to crises where it does not have a field presence, while increasing its overall stance as a global multilateral donor. Korea also makes use of its diplomatic network and KOICA field offices in relaying affected countries’ requests for international assistance. This network allows Korea to respond to disasters that are not on the main international radar, and for which it can deploy both its emergency response and development aid, notably in building more resilient systems within national governments. In 2015, for example, Korea responded to a landslide in Peru with emergency relief while also mobilising KOICA to implement a natural disaster prevention programme. This is good practice.

However, Korea’s growing humanitarian budget is at risk of being spread too thinly, with 138 projects in 61 countries reported as humanitarian aid by both Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and KOICA in 20156. There is scope to focus more on those crises where Korea can make a meaningful contribution, linking its emergency response to development co-operation, for instance in its fragile priority countries. Moreover, Korea could build on its embassy network to increase its risk assessment capacity and engage further in preparedness and disaster risk reduction before crises strike.

Investing in government capacity is an effective way for Korea to channel its bilateral humanitarian aid

Because Korea was itself an ODA recipient until 2000, it places a particular emphasis on the role of local actors in delivering aid, and is always keen to support the institutional capacity of affected national governments or cities when responding bilaterally to disasters. This natural inclination to support national structures is strength of its bilateral humanitarian aid. Korea has less scope to support local actors when responding to major humanitarian crises through multilateral partners as it has less direct leverage. One exception is its support to the International Federation of the Red Cross, as Korea also supports national societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent movement in affected countries. As mentioned, there is further scope for Korea to use flexible development funding to support national partners directly in areas which reflect its comparative advantage, i.e. strengthening early warning systems and risk analysis, and helping them to prepare ahead of a crisis.

Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments

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

As Korea gradually shifts its humanitarian aid focus from natural disaster response to complex crises, it has built a stronger partnership with the multilateral system. It could also make more use of its civil society organisations to strengthen its national humanitarian capacity. The administrative hurdles faced by non-government organisations that were noted in the last peer review are now being addressed and streamlined measures will be introduced in 2018 to encourage Korean NGOs to engage in the global humanitarian response to crisis situations.

Korea has increased its support for protracted crises, particularly through multilateral organisations

Almost two-thirds (63%) of Korea’s 2015 humanitarian aid budget was allocated to protracted crises (Figure 7.1) reflecting its ambition to be a global humanitarian player in this arena, alongside its traditional natural disaster response capacities.7 As most humanitarian crises occur in countries that are not among Korea’s priority partner countries, it relies essentially on multilateral organisations to respond to these crises. For example, at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit, Korea committed to double its contribution to United Nations Country-Based Pooled Funds in conflict-affected fragile states. For Korea, contributing to country-based pooled funds is a good way to provide flexible funding to specific crises where it does not have development programmes or a field presence. To increase flexibility, Korea could explore ways to provide multi-annual funding to its multilateral partners.

Figure 7.1. Korea’s humanitarian assistance budget 2015 (USD million)

Source: OECD (2017a), OECD International Development Statistics, Volume 2016 Issue 2,; all figures are commitments at 2015 prices.

As it mainly provides core funding or contributes to pooled funds, Korea is a modest but appreciated partner for multilateral organisations, with low administrative requirements. Korea has developed strategic partnerships with five UN organisations – UNHCR, UNDP, UNICEF, WFP and WHO (see Chapter 5), but is also a regular contributor to other multilateral organisations, such as the Red Cross Movement and the International Organisation for Migration. These partnerships allow Korea to be conflict sensitive in its engagement in fragile or crisis contexts.

Korea has an experienced search and rescue team with potential to train others

Because most of the world’s disasters occur in the Asia-Pacific region (IFRC, 2015), Korea has built a solid regional emergency response capacity through the Korean Disaster Relief Team.8 This is managed by KOICA and can be deployed worldwide within 48 hours (as witnessed following the Nepal earthquake in 2015; see above). Korea only deploys its team for the biggest disasters; since its creation in 2007, the relief team has only been deployed in eight emergencies.9 The heavy investment in this high-performing emergency structure could have more impact if Korea’s disaster relief team also built or strengthened search and rescue capacities in countries where KOICA supports disaster risk reduction activities.

Korea could build its own national capacity through stronger partnerships with its NGO community

Korea’s humanitarian strategy is clear that building its own national capacity is one of the reasons why Korea engages in humanitarian aid (GoK, 2015a). Moreover, Korea’s policy for fragile states, developed in consultation with NGOs, illustrates that civil society can make a meaningful contribution to Korea’s engagement in crisis contexts (KOICA, 2017).10 Building this capacity at home should be the first step, and would be achieved more effectively by strengthening the capacities of, and building partnerships with, Korea’s humanitarian NGOs. However, Korea tends instead to contribute to multilateral organisations or to pooled funds. A Humanitarian Public-Private Partnership Programme was launched in 2012 to streamline relations with NGOs. Although this represents good funding practice, it has not improved the relationship between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Korean NGOs, who still report that Korea’s administrative requirements are not tailored to the realities of international deployment. In response to this feedback, a simplified funding procedure will be introduced from 2018 for NGOs funded through the Humanitarian Public-Private Partnership Programme.

Korea regularly co-operates with other donors on disaster risk reduction issues. In particular, since 2011 KOICA has had a long-standing partnership with Germany’s development agency, GIZ, on vocational training, health and evaluation in various countries and contexts.11 As part of an international network on disaster response, Korea’s disaster relief teams regularly train with other civil protection units, bilaterally or under the auspices of the UN, such as through the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group’s (INSARAG) regional group in the Asia Pacific region.12 Korea has also played an important role in establishing a framework for disaster management and emergency response in the Asia-Pacific region, particularly through the ASEAN+3, ASEAN Forum (ASEAN, 2013) and Korea-China-Japan trilateral talks.13

Organisation fit for purpose

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

Korea’s humanitarian aid is managed by a small team, which also increasingly manages relations with UN agencies. With a growing budget and broader portfolio for complex crises, Korea’s humanitarian team will need to focus more on policy dialogue at the global level so that its programming remains coherent with the overall international response in such complex contexts. The humanitarian team works closely with KOICA, which is good practice, and has a clear impact on the coherence between emergency responses and development action after natural disasters. These co-ordination mechanisms should be replicated in complex crises as Korea increases its humanitarian assistance in such contexts.

When a large-scale emergency occurs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and KOICA consult with each other on how to respond, under the leadership of the Director General of the Development Co-operation Bureau in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this way, they seek to ensure coherence between emergency activities and post-emergency or disaster risk reduction activities. A similar co-ordination mechanism would be useful to guide Korea’s response to complex emergencies, where peacebuilding, development and humanitarian action can all be necessary. Currently, KOICA and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have regular contact over specific countries or issues, but it is not systematic. For instance, humanitarian aid is not yet included in development strategies, even in fragile partner countries. This limits the ability of development co-operation to respond to shocks.

Korea could more clearly define civilian activities to be carried out by its military in peacekeeping operations

The Korean military has intervened in several international disasters, providing emergency logistical support. In such contexts, the roles and responsibilities of the military are clearly established14 – Korea essentially deploys medical and engineering units, including as part of the UN missions in Lebanon and South Sudan – and the Ministry of National Defence has integrated the UN principles and code of conduct for peacekeeping missions. However, Korea would benefit from developing guidance for military interaction with the civilian population in conflict contexts. As the main task of the contingents is to interact with civilian population, Korea should define what its troops should or should not do as part of its peacekeeping mission i.e. provide medical services, build and repair roads, power lines, schools and other public infrastructure, while respecting humanitarian principles. These guidelines could help Korea in its future military deployments and pre-deployment trainings.

More policy engagement through regional or global networks would help Korea to refine its strategy

In a context of greater ambition and a larger humanitarian budget, Korea could usefully strengthen its active participation in regional or global policy networks to help address some of its challenges and reinforce its partnerships beyond funding agreements. Humanitarian aid is managed by a team of three people at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, within a unit which is also responsible for multilateral development co-operation. Greater policy engagement will require enough staff in this unit to dedicate sufficient time to policy issues. Korea’s field personnel will also need to be trained in humanitarian issues so they can report on emerging crises and feed into Korea’s humanitarian strategy.15

Results, learning and accountability

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

Korea focuses its communication on the easier and more visible disaster response, with less coverage given to its growing involvement in protracted crises. There is scope for Korea to work with its main multilateral partners to build specific communication tools to raise public awareness of its engagement in other global crises. This communication effort could be based on outcomes agreed collectively by the international community. Information on Korea’s humanitarian programmes and analysis is difficult to find; Korea could raise its international profile by making some of this information available in English on its website.

Highlighting its contribution to collective outcomes could help Korea to measure results

Korea relies on the Multilateral Organisation Performance Assessment Network (MOPAN) and regular activity reports from its partners to keep track of its results. As most of Korea’s humanitarian aid is channelled through multilateral organisations, and increasingly through pooled funds, Korea cannot undertake direct field monitoring of activities. Going forward, Korea could focus its monitoring and discussion with its partners on collective outcomes rather than outputs, in line with the UN Secretary General’s New Way of Working initiative.16 Measuring how Korea contributes to a set of collectively agreed outcome in a crisis would help to assess the effectiveness of its aid. The humanitarian strategy highlights the need to strengthen the evaluation system for humanitarian aid, and also to make better use of Korea’s field staff in embassies for internal monitoring beyond Korea’s disaster relief team activities (GoK, 2015a); both of these actions would be useful.

Accessing information on Korea’s humanitarian aid remains difficult; only Korea’s disaster relief team deployments and disaster response activities are available on the website. There is scope to better match the communication strategy with ambition in the humanitarian domain. In a context where the role of ODA is increasingly questioned, Korea’s growing humanitarian budget should be explained to the general public, and made more visible across the broader humanitarian community. Even though Korea’s added value in responding to natural disasters is clear and visible, most of Korea’s humanitarian response is dedicated to protracted crisis through multilateral partners. Information in Korean and English about what is funded, and what results are achieved, would help Korea to achieve its strategic objective of greater visibility.


Government sources

GoK (2017), “Memorandum of Korea”, OECD DAC Peer Review 2017, Government of Korea, Seoul (unpublished).

GoK (2015a), “Humanitarian assistance strategy”, Government of Korea, Seoul (unpublished).

GoK (2015b), “Mid-term Strategy for Development Cooperation 2016-2020”, Government of Korea, Seoul.

GoK, (2014), “Foreign Emergency Relief Act”, Government of Korea, Seoul (unpublished).

KOICA (2017), KOICA leaflet, 2015 earthquake in Nepal, (unpublished).

Other sources

ASEAN (2013), “ASEAN Regional Forum gears up for a stronger civil military coordination and disaster relief operation”, ASEAN Secretariat News, 13th May 2013,

GB (2016), “The Grand Bargain, a shared commitment to better serve people in need”, available at:

GHD (2003), ‘23 Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship’, Declaration made in Stockholm 16-17 June, Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative,

IFRC (2015) World Disasters Report 2016, International Federation of the Red Cross, page 250-251,, accessed 20/07/2017


← 1. On 25th April 2015, an earthquake hit Nepal. Within three days, Korean Disaster Response Teams and emergency supplies arrived in the affected areas. In June 2015 Korea sent an Earthquake Recovery Programme managed by KOICA and with a budget of USD 10 million to support short and medium-term rehabilitation. It also established a Post-Disaster Health Service Recovery Programme for the period 2015-18 (KOICA, 2017).

← 2. See Note 1 above

← 3. See, accessed 09/09/2017.

← 4. Korea’s share of humanitarian aid channelled through the multilateral system including pooled funds is not fixed; it has been increasing globally, from 63% in 2011 to 73% in 2015 (interview in Seoul, June 2015).

← 5. Level 3 emergencies are major sudden-onset humanitarian crises triggered by natural disasters or conflict which require a Humanitarian System-Wide Emergency Activation to ensure the most effective response to the humanitarian needs of affected populations. See more on

← 6. See OECD Creditor Reporting System,, accessed 09/09/2017.

← 7. In 2007, for example, 79% of Korea's humanitarian aid was allocated to natural disaster response, compared with 33% in 2015 (OECD-CRS data,

← 8. The Korean Disaster Relief Team has been classified since 2011 with the highest grade “heavy urban search and rescue” by the UN International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG).

← 9. In response to the earthquakes in Nepal, Haiti, Indonesia, Japan and China; the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone; the cyclone in Myanmar and the typhoon in the Philippines.

← 10. The strategy for engagement in fragile states was elaborated in consultation with the Korea NGO council for Overseas Development Cooperation.

← 11. GIZ and KOICA have worked together notably in Ghana, Mongolia, Philippines, Laos, Rwanda and Nepal (see

← 12. INSARAG is a global network of more than 80 countries and organisations under the United Nations umbrella. It aims to establish minimum international standards for urban search and rescue teams

← 13. See the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s presentation on trilateral co-operation on disaster management:

← 14. For instance, in the Iraq Provincial Reconstruction Teams from 2004 to 2008; military assistance to the tsunami response in South Asia from 2004 to 2005; and reconstruction work in Haiti in 2010.

← 15. The OECD has published a series of accessible guidelines on humanitarian issues for field staff: see

← 16. The New Way of Working entails defining shared collective outcomes for humanitarian and development actors and the government.