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Charities Aid Foundation

Charities Aid Foundation

Responding to humanitarian emergencies

How to incorporate long-term humanitarian emergency response into your philanthropic strategy

4 May 2021

In our first article, How can donors best respond during Humanitarian Emergencies? we discussed how, particularly developing countries, will continue to experience more frequent, unpredictable, and complex humanitarian emergencies. We provided pointers in regards to what to look out for when determining which emergency appeals to support.

This piece will look at how donors can incorporate humanitarian emergency response into their philanthropic strategy.

It is important to mention that by no means is donating to alleviate the immediate suffering through emergency appeals not important. However, there may be an additional benefit in thinking of your response in a more strategic, long term manner. This helps shift your response from an empathetic one, to an approach that is more strategic and impactful.

What are the longer term strategic funding opportunities?

Philanthropy in long term humanitarian emergency contexts provides the opportunity to prevent many crises. However, most of the responses focus on the immediate relief, which already sits within a larger system addressing emergencies including the UN, governments, and local organisations.

Furthermore, donors often disengage from a humanitarian emergency after the immediate relief, even before enough time has passed to conduct a comprehensive needs based assessment and the development of a long term recovery plan.

Instead, taking a longer term perspective to donating to humanitarian emergencies provides the opportunity to go beyond providing a short-term ‘fix’, and instead  assist with preparation, mitigation, response and recovery. Below we discuss some longer term initiatives to help countries and governments better prepare, and respond.  

Disaster preparedness

It will always be hard to precisely predict when a disaster or conflict may arise but, we can be anticipatory in our approach. Climate science is continuously improving, making it easier to predict hurricanes, earthquake fault lines, and even quickly identify droughts.

There is a growing body of research highlighting disaster preparedness and mitigation as a highly strategic way of supporting humanitarian emergencies. The World Bank and UN suggest that investing in this could lead to greater returns in terms of reducing losses from crises.

Lessons from the field have highlighted that it tends to be more effective to plan ahead and arrange required funding in advance. At its core, disaster risk finance advocates for more financial planning. Some donors have started to integrate humanitarian funding into development programs, known as “crisis modifiers”. These have the ability to accelerate response, use local partners for delivery, ensure appropriate coverage of smaller shocks, and protect development gains.

This approach has been used by the Department for International Development for natural disasters, but they are also starting to shift this approach to include health shocks, such as epidemic outbreaks. Disaster reduction not only looks at the cost to human life but also the cost to basic necessities that communities need.

Improving resilience

There are measures that communities can take to increase their chances of survival, and lessen the impact when a disaster or crisis does strike.

A country with good resilience is one that is able to prepare for disasters and have systems in place to help make the recovery more efficient. Investing in resilience has the ability to save lives and money in the long term.

Doing this well requires an anticipatory approach to disaster, for example by investing in shock resistant infrastructure (buildings, houses, hospitals, schools) that can withstand natural disasters. It is also about investing in human capacity, strengthening government capacity to respond to disasters, creating disaster management plans and structures, and also economic planning and provisions for future disasters.

Long term recovery

Recovery, follows a more stable period of transition as the emergency will have subsided and communities will have some form of access to food, water and transitional shelter. Recovery can last from months to years. The duration will depend on how vulnerable affected communities were prior to the crisis, their access to resources, and their adaptability.

After the early recovery passes, infrastructure begins to be built to replace transitional shelter, as well as restoring social structures such as schools. It is important for funding to continue during this time to facilitate the reconstruction and restoration of infrastructure. This also provides the opportunity to invest in resilience of structures for potential future crises.

However, by this stage philanthropic funding has often dried up, and the humanitarian emergency is forgotten.  


There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that local organisations have better access and deeper networks to individuals and communities affected by humanitarian emergencies. Yet, there is still a disconnect between international, national, and local institutions and groups.

Part of this can be attributed to the small proportion of funding from international donors directly reaching local grassroots organisations in crisis affected countries. There is a lack of diversity in this sector, where organisations that do not fit in the formal system are excluded, and new approaches can be side-lined; often these are local grassroots organisations. This can result in support not reaching the neediest communities.

It is important to ensure organisations that you support involve local partners in any needs assessments and decision making processes to strengthen capacity at a national and sub-national level.  This can help local communities to become more resilient, and better prepared for future potential crises, and allow local communities to lead on response efforts.

Some final thoughts

One of the biggest take home messages is that the impact and consequences of humanitarian emergencies on affected communities and individuals will be long term. Whilst a “quick fix” donation via an emergency appeal can help alleviate immediate suffering, there are also other factors to consider.

If you want to help support affected communities to get back on their feet, one of the ways that you can do this is by funding long term initiatives such as those mentioned above. This is because there is a gap in funding from the immediate response to the longer term recovery, making this a high impact opportunity.

Our Private Client team and Corporate team are always on hand to help you develop your giving strategy, so please get in touch if you have any questions or would like to discuss how we can support you.