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How do we help?

Humanitarian aid is designed to provide help specific to the needs of people who are suffering great hardship, or are at risk of great hardship, as a result of natural disasters, epidemics, armed conflict or internal unrest.

The lead ministry for the German Government’s humanitarian aid abroad is the Federal Foreign Office, which provides humanitarian assistance swiftly, flexibly and without unnecessary bureaucracy. According to the principle of subsidiarity, the German Government provides humanitarian aid where the government of a country hit by disaster is unable or unwilling to do so itself on a sufficient scale. 

The German Government does not provide this assistance directly; it funds appropriate relief projects run by UN humanitarian organisations, German NGOs and organisations of the Red Cross/Crescent Movement. These enable the people affected to live in dignity and security and to alleviate the suffering of those who are in dire need that is beyond their power to alleviate.

The German Government’s policy in this field is based on the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid as well as the Principles and Good Practice of Good Humanitarian Donorship. Its policy here is guided by the requirements of those in need of humanitarian aid as well as a commitment to the humanitarian principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence.

Humane, neutral, impartial and independent

  • The principle of humanity means human suffering must be alleviated wherever it occurs. This applies not only to those capable of providing help but also to those who have it in their power to enable access to the people affected. Attention focuses particularly on the most vulnerable population groups. The dignity of all victims must be preserved and protected.
  • Neutrality means that humanitarian aid is conducted without giving preferential treatment to any one side in an armed conflict or other dispute.
  • Impartiality means that humanitarian aid is granted purely on the basis of need – without discriminating between the groups affected.
  • The principle of independence means that humanitarian goals must not be subordinate to political, economic, military or other aims. The sole purpose of humanitarian aid is to prevent or alleviate the suffering of victims of humanitarian crises.

Humanitarian aid and disaster risk reduction

The Federal Foreign Office bears the chief responsibility for the German Government’s humanitarian aid abroad. The Federal Foreign Office funds immediate, transitional and ongoing humanitarian aid, including food aid, in particular help for refugees and internally displaced persons.

It also promotes integrated measures on humanitarian disaster reduction. It also promotes humanitarian preparedness, helping to minimise the impact of natural disasters, make populations at risk from disasters and crises better able to help themselves, alleviate human suffering, and reduce material damage.

Humanitarian mine and ordnance clearance are also part of this field of action. This aims to alleviate the humanitarian, social, economic and ecological impact of landmines and explosive remnants of war.

Humanitarian assistance: internationalism, quality and diplomacy

Humanitarian assistance takes place in an interdependent international environment. Global challenges – such as climate change, population growth, rising poverty and protracted and/or armed conflicts – play a significant role in international humanitarian aid in that they are leading or will lead to increased humanitarian need.

The German Government therefore explicitly backs and provides long-term support to the UN’s international mechanisms for coordinating humanitarian aid (OCHA). It moreover uses humanitarian diplomacy to gain new partners for humanitarian assistance and integrate them into the existing internationally coordinated system.

The Federal Foreign Office is an active advocate of innovation and quality-assurance in humanitarian aid and encourages its partners in these areas.

Humanitarian aid and development cooperation

The German Government is guided by such internationally recognized principles as the LRRD approach – linking relief, rehabilitation and development. The aim is to connect humanitarian aid to development cooperation in the best possible way, with reference to the local circumstances of the crisis or disaster. The German Government has the tools available to make that happen: humanitarian aid is covered by the Federal Foreign Office, while the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development is responsible for recovery and rehabilitation alongside its role in conventional development cooperation. The objective here is to strengthen the resilience of people and societies in developing countries, especially in fragile states and precarious situations.

Rapid and unbureaucratic response to current emergencies

In 2014, the Federal Foreign Office spent over 437 million euros on responding to humanitarian crises around the world. The primary focus here was the humanitarian emergency in Syria and its neighbouring countries, the crises in northern Iraq, Ukraine, the Central African Republic and South Sudan as well as the countries hit by Ebola in West Africa. The rapid and unbureaucratic humanitarian assistance it channelled to international and civil-society organisations enabled them to carry out important aid projects.

Important partners of the German Government include the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) as well as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). Alongside cooperation on a wide range of projects, it also contributes an annual total of 17.5 million euros in the form of voluntary contributions to the organisations’ core budgets.


Last updated 27.03.2015

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