International cooperation on humanitarian aid

Humanitarian aid through the United Nations

Natural disasters and armed conflicts have led to a constant increase in recent years in the number of people worldwide who are dependent on humanitarian aid. Alongside the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs, UN organizations such as UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), UNICEF (the United Nations Children’s Fund) and the World Food Programme (WFP) are the key players providing humanitarian aid.

The UN is also responsible for mobilizing and coordinating humanitarian aid. The Federal Republic of Germany is one of the leading humanitarian donors and is represented on all key UN decision-making bodies.

International coordination by the UN system

Given the constantly growing need for humanitarian aid, it is vital for assistance to be efficiently coordinated and organized. This ensures that the expertise of the numerous agencies can be put to best use and that, in view of the many different needs, gaps in provision can be minimized and unnecessary duplication of effort avoided. Thus the German Government supports the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is part of the UN Secretariat. The Office is headed by Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos, who is also Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos visited the Federal Foreign Office on 18 March 2014. You can read more about her visit here.

The main tasks of the Coordinator and her staff are to assess rapidly the level of humanitarian need following disasters, to publish appeals for aid and then to coordinate the aid provided by the member states and the UN aid organizations. This is done in cooperation with all humanitarian players (UN aid organizations, Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement, NGOs) as well as by sending assessment teams to disaster areas (UNDAC).

Donor involvement in OCHA takes place above all through the OCHA Donor Support Group (ODSG). The Federal Republic of Germany, which has been a member of this forum since 2005, became the chair of the group for one year from the summer of 2012. Currently comprising 26 members, the group has played a crucial role in advancing the debate on reform in the international humanitarian sector.

The aim of the global UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), which OCHA administers, is to enable the UN to intervene in humanitarian crises at an early stage and to mitigate funding shortages in underfinanced crises. The German Government also contributes to the relevant national funds in the case of longer-term emergencies.

Germany, sharing responsibility – humanitarian aid in UN bodies

If aid is to be effective, there needs to be consensus in the international community about fundamental humanitarian aid questions and constant dialogue between donor countries and states affected by humanitarian crises. The central fora where this happens is the General Assembly and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Once a year the General Assembly focuses on humanitarian issues and adopts, usually through consensus, a number of resolutions dealing inter alia with the framework conditions for international humanitarian aid and the tasks of the United Nations in this sphere. Once a year at its meeting in July, ECOSOC dedicates a section of the agenda, in line with its mandate, to operative and coordination aspects of humanitarian aid.

The Federal Government sees German humanitarian aid as a contribution to an overarching task of the international community. For this reason, Germany does not just focus on making the best possible use of finances earmarked for humanitarian aid, but also works to make the entire international humanitarian aid system more efficient and effective by participating actively in the relevant international bodies and fora and promoting suitable action. Germany’s main priority is to support the central coordinating role of the United Nations in the international humanitarian aid system, as well as the structures and mechanisms created through the reform of humanitarian aid in the UN, and where necessary to help further develop such structures.

A reliable partnership – Germany as a key humanitarian donor and dialogue partner for international organizations

The German Government’s key international partners in the provision of humanitarian aid are three UN organizations – UNHCR, the WFP and UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) – as well as the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). These bodies all receive regular financial contributions for humanitarian projects.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

The ICRC helps people in emergency situations

The ICRC helps people in emergency situations
© dpa/picture alliance

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The ICRC helps people in emergency situations

The ICRC helps people in emergency situations

The ICRC helps people in emergency situations

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was founded in 1863 and is the oldest humanitarian organization with a global reach. It works worldwide to provide help for people affected by armed conflict. Its activities include mediating between parties to a conflict, treating injured people, visiting prisoners of war and political prisoners, restoring contact with families, protecting civilians and providing them with food and other relief supplies. Its mandate is derived from the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols thereto. All of its actions are based on its determinedly humanitarian mission and its absolute neutrality. The organization is thus often in a position to provide aid in places to which nobody else is granted access. The ICRC is justifiably well regarded for its work.

The ICRC is an important dialogue partner for the Federal Foreign Office in specific crises. As a member of the ICRC Donor Support Group, the German Government has for years participated in an intensive dialogue on questions of humanitarian aid and international humanitarian law and supports the ICRC’s role as a key humanitarian stakeholder.

In 2012, the Federal Foreign Office contributed a total of 26 million euros for ICRC humanitarian aid projects. Aid focused on areas such as Syria, Yemen, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, South Sudan, Mali, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Colombia. This and other contributions make Germany one of the ICRC’s biggest national donors. In 2012, Germany was 10th in the donor rankings.



The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is based in Geneva. The organization’s mandate to protect refugees around the world derives from the Geneva Refugee Convention and the London Protocol. UNHCR also works to help internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Germany is one of UNHCR’s principal backers. The first country to sign the Geneva Refugee Convention more than 60 years ago, Germany can truly claim to be one of UNHCR’s founding partners. Germany has shared responsibility for UNHCR since 1958 as a member of its Executive Committee. The Federal Foreign Office represents the German Government on the Executive Committee, which adopts the organization’s programmes and budget, discusses issues relating to UNHCR’s mandate and takes organizational decisions.

The German Government supports UNHCR in various ways, for example by making unrestricted voluntary contributions to its funds and by providing project-specific funding. In humanitarian crises UNHCR is an important dialogue partner to the German Government. The High Commissioner for Refugees last visited Germany in an official capacity in 2012. That year, Germany provided more than 28 million euros for humanitarian projects via the Foreign Office Division for Humanitarian Aid. Most of this was donated as aid for Syria, for Afghan refugees and in connection with the complex crises in Africa.


World Food Programme (WFP)

The World Food Programme delivers foodstuffs to crisis areas

The World Food Programme delivers foodstuffs to crisis areas
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The World Food Programme delivers foodstuffs to crisis areas

The World Food Programme delivers foodstuffs to crisis areas

The World Food Programme delivers foodstuffs to crisis areas

The United Nations World Food Programme has its headquarters in Rome. The organization’s mission is to contribute to food security by providing food aid. It acts primarily where humanitarian emergencies occur, but also gets food to people in places where food insecurity is chronic.

The Federal Foreign Office has supported the World Food Programme for many years in the field of logistics; the WFP provides logistical support for the entire international humanitarian community. In the year 2012, Germany made available some 4.5 million euros for this work. Responsibility for humanitarian food aid passed from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to the Federal Foreign Office in 2012. Since that date, we have also supported food aid projects in humanitarian crisis areas through the WFP, providing some 18 million euros for work in countries including Afghanistan, Syria, the Sudan/South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.



The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was founded in 1949 by the UN General Assembly in order to assist the Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes in the Arab-Israeli conflict of 1948. There are now some 4.99 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Agency’s work focuses on education and training, medical care and social and humanitarian projects.

In 2012, Germany donated more than 8 million euros to UNRWA’s regular budget and over 5.6 million euros towards projects to provide school meals and promote food security.


Germany also supports projects run by other international organizations such as the IOM (International Organization for Migration) and UNICEF (the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund).

The EU’s humanitarian aid

The European Union (member states and Commission) is the world’s largest donor of humanitarian aid, providing more than 50% of all funds. Click here for more information:

Last updated 11.04.2013

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