Responding strategically to humanitarian emergencies

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

During a humanitarian emergency, it’s only natural to want to give to those in desperate need. We have already explored how best to respond during a disaster to maximise your impact. 

Of course, a prompt response is vital for communities in crisis. But too often the response is only focused on the immediate relief. Many donors disengage before a needs-based assessment and recovery plan has been made.

When the news agenda moves on, affected communities are often still left in crisis.

Taking a longer-term approach can go beyond providing a short-term ‘fix’. It can help with preparation, mitigation, response and recovery. Here are some ways you can help communities better prepare and respond to disasters. 

Invest in disaster preparedness

Disasters are always hard to predict, but we can be anticipatory in our approach. Climate science and artificial intelligence are making it easier to predict natural disasters. Mitigating and preparing for a disaster is an impactful way of support. 

The World Bank and United Nations suggest that investing in this area could lead to far fewer losses from crises. Experience shows that it's more effective to arrange required funding in advance. At its core, disaster risk finance advocates for more financial planning.

Some donors are integrating funding known as ‘crisis modifiers’ into development programmes. This aims to speed up response, use local partners for delivery, cover smaller shocks, and protect development gains. The Department for International Development has used this approach for natural disasters and are starting to use it for epidemic outbreaks. 

Help improve resilience

Communities can take measures to increase their chances of survival and lessen the impact of a crisis. A resilient community is one that can prepare for disasters and have systems in place to make recovery more efficient. 

Investing in resilience can save lives and money in the long term. Doing this well requires an anticipatory approach to disaster. 

This might include investing in shock-resistant buildings or human capacity to deal with crises. It could also involve strengthening government capacity to respond, creating disaster management plans, as well as economic planning and provisions for future disasters.

Support long-term recovery

As the emergency subsides and people gain access to food, water and shelter, the recovery begins. This can last from several months to years or even decades. It all depends on how vulnerable the communities were before the crisis, their access to resources and ability to adapt. Restoring and rebuilding provides the opportunity to invest in resilience for the future. 

Funding must continue during recovery. But by this stage, philanthropic donations have usually stopped, and the emergency forgotten. 


Prioritise local organisations

Local organisations have better access and networks among those affected by humanitarian emergencies. Yet, there is still a disconnect between international, national, and local groups. 

This is partly due to the small proportion of international donations reaching local grassroots organisations. There is a lack of diversity in this sector; organisations that don't fit in the formal system are excluded. These are often local grassroots organisations that may be pioneering new approaches, which become side-lined. This can mean support does not reach the neediest communities. 

Make sure the organisations you support involve local partners, particularly on assessments and decision making. This can help local communities become better prepared and allow them to lead on response efforts. 

Get help with your long-term giving

We know that the impact of humanitarian emergencies will always be long term. While supporting emergency appeals can ease immediate suffering, it’s worth looking at the longer-term consequences of a crisis. 

Funding longstanding initiatives can help communities get back on their feet. And reducing the gap in funding after the immediate response is a high-impact opportunity for donors. 

If you need support with your giving strategy or identifying charities, we’re here to help.

As experts in helping donors achieve their goals, we can help you realise greater impact with your giving. 

Find out more about our philanthropy services.