Humanitarian emergencies


In 2010, 263 million people were affected by disasters – 110 million more than in 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami. Humanitarian disasters cost lives and can cause huge setbacks in poor countries’ development.

It’s likely that more people – particularly in developing countries – will be affected by humanitarian emergencies in the coming decades. There are many reasons for this, including:

  • rapid population growth, especially in disaster-prone areas
  • continued mass urbanisation, much of it unplanned and unsafe
  • climate change and its effects on sea levels, global rainfall and storm patterns - climate-related disasters could affect 375 million people every year by 2015, up from 263 million in 2010

To find out how you can help in humanitarian disasters, click here


Co-ordinating the UK’s response to humanitarian emergencies

The Department for International Development (DFID) leads the UK government’s response to humanitarian emergencies in developing countries. DFID works with other UK government departments such as the FCO and MOD, international organisations such as the United Nations, charities, other aid agencies and the governments of the countries affected.

We provide predictable, long term financial support to our humanitarian partners. These include UN agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs)

We provide crucial humanitarian aid resources during rapid onset natural disasters and emergency conflict situations. We also deploy staff to areas affected by humanitarian emergencies when necessary, including through DFID’s Conflict Humanitarian Security and Emergency Operations Team - a contracted team of experts, advisers and officers.

Helping countries protect themselves against future disasters

Helping countries become more resilient to disasters is an efficient way of spending aid compared with giving humanitarian support.

A UK-funded study found that in Kenya - over a 20 year period - every $1 spent on disaster resilience resulted in $2.90 saved in the form of reduced humanitarian spend, avoided losses and development gains. We have commissioned a second phase of the study in Bangladesh, Mozambique and Niger.

DFID will include disaster resilience in all our country programmes by 2015. As a first step in building disaster resilience, we have developed a set of minimum standards for our country offices. We aim to meet these minimum standards in a first set of 8 country programmes by April 2013.

Implementing international humanitarian principles and policy

Through our policy and action we will make sure that British humanitarian aid delivers rapid and effective support to people who need it most, provides value for money, and protects the safety of humanitarian workers.

The UK adheres to the internationally accepted principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence in its humanitarian action. It is only through maintaining and promoting a principled approach that we can challenge those who deny humanitarian access.


The last few years have seen an unprecedented number of disasters, from the massive earthquake in Haiti and extreme flooding in Pakistan during 2010, to the death and destruction caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011. As well as natural disasters, protracted conflicts in countries such as Sudan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo have continued to cause suffering.

The existence of nearly a billion chronically hungry people (a humanitarian disaster in itself), primarily in Asia and Africa, exacerbates the consequences of emergencies. An average of 1,052 people die in any given disaster in less developed countries, compared to 23 in developed countries.

During humanitarian emergencies, where there is compelling and overwhelming need, DFID provides extra funding to international aid organisations if necessary to save lives. This includes providing funds to governments and local NGOs and organisations when appropriate.

In the longer term, the reconstruction of disaster-affected areas in developing countries often takes several years. The rebuilding of homes, businesses and roads is done by local people, often with money given by DFID and UK aid agencies as well as by other countries. The UK’s humanitarian policy is explained in our paper ‘Saving lives, preventing suffering and building resilience’.

Humanitarian Emergency Response Review

In March 2011, Lord Ashdown presented his Humanitarian Emergency Response Review to the UK government. The review provided a comprehensive assessment of the UK and the international community’s current response mechanisms.

The government’s response to this report committed us to several policies including making resilience a central element of our work in developing countries, so that they are more prepared to deal with an emergency should one occur.

The policy commitments in the UK government’s response will help ensure that the UK and the international humanitarian system respond in the best ways possible to future humanitarian emergencies.