Chapter 7. Humanitarian aid

France’s humanitarian aid budget over this review period was not generous enough to achieve the country’s objectives or sustain its increased level of engagement in crisis zones. Its new humanitarian strategy contains renewed ambitions that are part of its overall approach to crisis management. The plan to increase annual humanitarian aid spending to EUR 500 million between now and 2022 should substantially strengthen France’s humanitarian role through its well-established partnerships and clear, though complex, decision-making and budgeting mechanisms. The overall approach, involving greater commitment of ODA in crisis zones and more structural dialogue with actors in the military sphere, will require continual vigilance to safeguard the mandates and added value of every actor.


Strategic framework

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

France’s humanitarian aid budget during this review period was not generous enough to achieve the country’s objectives and sustain its greater engagement in crisis zones. By joining the Grand Bargain initiative in late 2017, France placed its humanitarian aid within a broader overall approach to crisis management. With French humanitarian aid set to increase to EUR 500 million by 2022, it could be made more coherent by simplifying the way in which the humanitarian aid budget is managed.

Renewed ambitions require a more generous budget

At the 4th National Humanitarian Conference on 22 March 2018, France adopted a new humanitarian strategy (MEAE, 2018b) for the next four years. This seeks to align humanitarian aid with France’s overall approach to crisis contexts and the undertakings it gave at the World Humanitarian Summit – the Grand Bargain (GB, 2016) – which France joined in 2017. The previous strategy for French humanitarian aid, which was in force during the review period (MEAE, 2012), enabled France to strengthen partnerships, but budgetary constraints prevented it from achieving some of its objectives, notably on disaster prevention and preparation.

Indeed, the principal weakness of France’s humanitarian aid continues to be the low level of resources allocated to it (OECD, 2013). In 2016, France’s humanitarian aid totalled USD 153 million,1 or 1.3% of its official development assistance (ODA), which was the lowest rate of all members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).2 In the absence of any credible increase in its (bilateral) contribution, France is depriving itself of the coherence it needs in crisis settings – especially in the Sahel region, where humanitarian emergencies are virtually permanent and are not necessarily caused by migration or security issues (UNOCHA, 2017). France’s latest budget plans, as announced by the CICID in February 2018, are encouraging in this regard (MEAE, 2018a).

The global approach is coherent, but crisis tools need to be adapted

France has a wide range of instruments for intervening in crisis contexts; these could usefully be adapted and simplified. The 2018 meeting of the Interministerial Committee on International Co-operation and Development (CICID) confirmed the importance which France attaches to a global approach that uses political, military and development co-operation instruments (MEAE, 2018a). France has underlined its capacity for analysing the factors contributing to a crisis, as well as its willingness to prevent them from escalating. This model would be more coherent if humanitarian action was both more ambitious and followed simplified procedures designed to meet the needs of populations in priority contexts, where France also deploys other crisis response instruments. As part of this overall approach, the French Development Agency (AFD) set up a special facility in 2016 for financing in fragile contexts, the budget for which will double by 2020 (MEAE, 2018a). This facility’s potential will be tapped using procedures that make sure programmes meet urgent needs of the regions concerned.3

Effective programme design

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

The mechanisms for allocating humanitarian aid reflect the overall crisis response, underpinned by a very sound understanding of operational contexts. But the political priority given to dealing with migration eats significantly into humanitarian aid allocations, which are not based solely on need. In addition, budgetary constraints and the dispersal of the budget across three different directorates have fragmented humanitarian aid.

Funds are allocated in response to crises and French priorities

Like most DAC members, France shapes its humanitarian responses from information and appeals received from its humanitarian partners and from its own network, which is fed by an extensive diplomatic presence.4 A look at the sums earmarked by France shows that the country spreads its modest humanitarian aid budget over a large number of crises. As a result, it is thinly spread, made worse by the fact that responsibility for humanitarian aid is shared by three directorates within the MEAE (see Section 7.4). France responds to these crises according to its political priorities and international commitments. In 2016, most of its aid went to the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey.5 Thus, the Middle East has become the main beneficiary of French humanitarian aid, well ahead of the Sahel region, even though the Sahel is a stated priority in the overall approach linking development and security. Lastly, an increasing number of stabilisation and development programmes are being designated as humanitarian. This shows how hard it is to apply a strict definition of humanitarian aid in the context of a wider approach to crisis management.6

Localisation of aid is a future aspect to be built

Through the embassies, the Co-operation and Cultural Action Office (SCAC) maintains a network of local partners, some of which could build their capacity for humanitarian crisis response. This would increase the localisation of French humanitarian aid, in line with the Grand Bargain.

Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments

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

France’s humanitarian partnerships and mechanisms were strengthened during the review period. The MEAE’s Crisis and Support Centre is an effective mechanism for crisis response. However, a humanitarian budget closer to the DAC average would earn France credibility in the eyes of its partners and help it to balance its crisis response within its overall approach.

Crisis support involves a range of tools

Despite its tradition of a strong humanitarian identity amongst civil society, humanitarian aid is not a major feature of France’s crisis response. Humanitarian partnerships constitute business as usual, and multilateral and bilateral actors find it regrettable that the funds committed do not match the quality of their dialogue with France. France prefers to participate in the emergency trust funds managed by multilateral organisations. Thus, it contributes chiefly to programmes and funds managed by the World Bank and European Union, which receive the majority of French multilateral humanitarian aid.7 By participating in these funds it is able to contribute to graduated responses – from emergency aid to long-term aid – and is part of an overall approach that seeks to foster resilience among vulnerable populations. However, France could consider analysing the cost-effectiveness of each fund and recipient before allocating new humanitarian budgets. AFD also benefits from these trust funds as an implementing agency; whilst this allows it to make the most of its own funds and improve project coherence, the down-side is that operations are subject to the twofold procedures of the European Union and AFD, doubling transaction costs.

France’s crisis response system is effective

The Crisis and Support Centre is the focal point of France’s crisis response system. It co-ordinates the various response tools and liaises with the armed forces, civil protection and all other departments involved in crisis response, whether the crisis is humanitarian or not. This centralisation makes for a more coherent response and clear decision making.

Mobilisation of France’s civil protection teams, especially when part of co-ordinated operations by the European Union, remains rapid and effective.

Strengthening the Emergency Humanitarian Fund will create stronger ties with NGOs

France recently joined the Grand Bargain, which will enable it to align some of its procedures with those of its humanitarian partners. That said, the Emergency Humanitarian Fund is already viewed positively by its beneficiaries for being fast and reactive, and for its light reporting requirements. Nevertheless, the fund’s modest and unpredictable budget,8 which is topped up as and when crises demand, limits its action to only the highest-profile crises.

Dialogue with non-government organisations (NGOs) has been reinforced in this review period. The Humanitarian Consultation Group, formed in 2013, brings together humanitarian actors and the MEAE in meetings every two months. This frequency allows for discussion of fairly technical and operational issues, which are not necessarily appropriate for the high level participation in this dialogue. France could adapt the format of the dialogue in order to draw greater benefit from it.

The lack of a sizeable humanitarian aid budget limits the scope for co-ordination

France takes part in joint European Union programming for the Sahel region. However, the constraints on France’s budget for bilateral humanitarian aid, including in its priority zones, prevent any proper co-ordination of France’s aid. Through the Alliance for the Sahel, France co-operates most closely with Germany, a key partner in development and security (Conseil des Ministres, 2017). But co-ordination here does not cover humanitarian aid, even though Germany has become a major player in that field in the space of just a few years.

Organisation fit for purpose

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

Already fragmented at the time of the last review, France’s humanitarian aid machinery remains complex. Its desired overall approach, necessitating greater commitment by AFD in crisis zones and enhanced structural dialogue with actors in the military sphere, will require changes to the machinery of humanitarian aid while safeguarding the responsibilities and added-value of each actor.

The Emergency Humanitarian Fund could be better used

The MEAE has three different sections handling humanitarian aid: the General Directorate for Globalisation manages programmed food aid; its United Nations Directorate manages contributions to the UN agencies; and the Crisis and Support Centre manages the Emergency Humanitarian Fund. Whilst this latter body is the most flexible and responsive when a crisis arises or escalates (alongside the other units of the Crisis and Support Centre), it is also the humanitarian section with the smallest budget at the start of each year, and the least predictable. Co-ordination among the three bodies is good. Nevertheless, France might rethink the workings of its aid machinery and could improve its coherence by forming a single unit capable of taking humanitarian funding decisions according to how much added value each instrument brings to each specific context.

The global approach requires vigilance to safeguard responsibilities and skills

France deploys its armed forces in numerous settings of crisis or tension.9 France’s global approach to crisis response means that there is increasing interaction between military and civilian elements, including humanitarian actors. In order to comply with the humanitarian principles by which France sets great store, it has long had guidelines for its armed forces in their dealings with civilians (Ministry of the Armed Forces, 2012). Even so, the closer link between peace, security, development and humanitarian aid inherent in the global approach requires greater vigilance to safeguard the responsibilities of each actor and preserve their distinctiveness and credibility: i.e. the security role of armed forces personnel, the role of development actors in fighting poverty and inequalities in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals, and the role of humanitarian actors in providing an emergency response to preserve lives and livelihoods.

Humanitarian advisers are vehicles of effective aid

France is one of the few DAC members able to deploy humanitarian advisers in a crisis; they ensure that the scale of the need is matched by an adequate response. This added value enhances the effectiveness of partnerships and the pertinence of analyses. Even so, the modest level of humanitarian aid does not allow these advisers to maximise their influence or to ensure the global co-ordination of the humanitarian response, and their work is limited mainly to co-ordinating the French response to a crisis.

Results, learning and accountability

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

Humanitarian programmes are evaluated regularly. Evaluations have a direct influence on shaping new avenues for intervention. Monitoring tools are being strengthened, which will be useful given the budget increases announced at the CICID’s 2018 meeting.

Monitoring tools are already in place

Humanitarian goals remain fairly general, and measurement of humanitarian aid is largely qualitative. A number of studies, including one mid-term evaluation (URD, 2015), added to the debate which culminated in a new French humanitarian strategy. The MEAE is keen to introduce a field audit mechanism for the Emergency Humanitarian Fund; this would be a good practice if the fund gets bigger. Likewise, joint evaluation by AFD, the MEAE and the General Directorate of the Treasury of French participation in multi-donor crisis and post-crisis trust funds (including European trust funds) will allow better appraisal of the operational benefits and procedure timeframes of these mechanisms. Finally, deploying humanitarian experts to crises is the best way to monitor activities. It also enriches the partnership with actors in the field by introducing dialogue and scrutiny over and above activity reports alone.

Clear messaging is still needed

France’s modest humanitarian budget in relation to its ambitions, and its fragmented administrative architecture, create less-than-ideal conditions for clear messaging to stimulate public support – at a time when the migration crisis and conflicts in France’s priority zones are dominating the headlines. Disseminating the new humanitarian strategy and the new strategy on fragility would be an opportunity to define a clear public message on France’s humanitarian action.


Conseil des Ministres (2017), “Conseil des Ministres Franco-Allemands” (in French), Ministerial Council, Paris,

French Senate (2016), “La contribution de la France au financement de la ‘Facilité en faveur des réfugiés en Turquie’” (in French), French Senate, Paris, (accessed 8 March 2018).

GB (2016), “The Grand Bargain - A shared commitment to better serve people in need”, The Grand Bargain,

MEAE (2018a), “Comité interministériel de la coopération internationale et du développement (CICID) 8 février 2018. Relevé de conclusions” (in French), MEAE, Paris,

MEAE (2018b), “France’s Humanitarian Strategy, 2018-2022”, MEAE, Paris,

MEAE (2012), “Stratégie humanitaire de la République Française” (in French), MEAE, Paris,

Ministry of the Armed Forces (2018), “Carte des opérations et missions militaires”, Ministry of the Armed Forces, Paris, (accessed 8 March 2018).

Ministry of the Armed Forces (2012), “Coopération civilo-militaire, doctrine interarmées” (in French), Ministry of the Armed Forces, Paris,

OECD (2017), “Humanitarian development coherence”, OECD, Paris,

OECD (2014), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews: France 2013, OECD Development Co-operation Peer Reviews, OECD Publishing, Paris,

UNOCHA (2017), “Sahel 2017. Aperçu des besoins humanitaires et des fonds requis pour la réponse” (in French), United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Dakar,

URD (2015), “Revue à mi-parcours de la stratégie humanitaire française” (in French), Urgence – Réhabilitation - Developpement,


← 1. Creditor Reporting System, consulted 28 February 2018,

← 2. OECD Aid at a Glance table,

← 3. For example, development programmes in primary healthcare or education have to take account of the various difficulties faced by the populations in question (access, security, purchasing power), which often mean that a combination of humanitarian and development response is required (OECD, 2017).

← 4. France, with its 163 embassies, is the world’s third largest diplomatic network. Each embassy has a humanitarian contact. In crisis zones, France also deploys humanitarian experts.

← 5. In 2016, France reported contributions of USD 98.2 million to the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey ( France’s contribution for 2017 was EUR 136 million; its total share for the period 2016-18 is EUR 309 million (French Senate, 2016).

← 6. For example, regional stabilisation projects around Lake Chad that included elements of justice and peace; projects to reform the security sector in the Central African Republic; and environment projects in South America and Asia were all reported as French humanitarian aid in 2017 (

← 7. French participation in trust funds managed by multilateral organisations accounted for 75% of France’s multilateral humanitarian aid (implemented chiefly by the World Bank) in 2014 and 80% in 2015. In 2016, France’s contribution to the EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey was USD 98.2 million, or 97% of all France’s multilateral humanitarian aid and 64% of French humanitarian aid (

← 8. The Emergency Humanitarian Fund has an envelope of approximately EUR 15 million a year.

← 9. In November 2017, the Ministry of the Armed Forces had 11 050 personnel on operational deployment, divided between external operations (including naval) and forces stationed abroad (Ministry for the Armed Forces, 2018).