Humanitarian assistance in 2021: focus on anticipatory assistance

A Red Cross staff member and a Mongolian woman with her horse chatting in a snow-covered landscape

Mongolia: facing the icy winter with anticipatory humanitarian assistance, © Mongolian Red Cross Society

01.12.2020 - Article

Some 235 million people require humanitarian assistance. Meanwhile, donor funds are becoming scarcer. This is the conclusion reached by the Global Humanitarian Overview 2021.

With forward-looking assistance, increasing numbers of people can be reached even with limited resources, for example in Mongolia.

235 million people in need of humanitarian assistance according to Global Humanitarian Overview

At the beginning of 2020, some 170 million people worldwide were dependent on humanitarian assistance. Today, this number stands at 235 million – an increase of 40 percent within just one year. While 28.8 billion US dollars were needed last year, the UN estimates that 35 billion US dollars will be required in 2021. This is the conclusion reached by the Global Humanitarian Overview of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which is being presented today – in a virtual capacity. With this document, Germany and other international donors coordinate with UN OCHA regarding what is needed in terms of humanitarian assistance in the year to come.

Sharp increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic

This increase is mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While many countries have so far handled the pandemic better than was feared, the secondary consequences of the pandemic are causing problems. Food prices are rising, jobs in the informal sector are falling by the wayside, and transport bottlenecks are emerging. The decline in donor funds is also a consequence of the pandemic. This has fatal consequences, especially in areas that have already had to contend with severe crises in the past.

Foreign Minister Maas emphasised the following at the presentation of the Global Humanitarian Overview:

Most urgently, however, we need solidarity with the millions of people worldwide who are suffering as a result of wars, natural disasters and the pandemic. This means greater financial commitment from all countries and donors who are able to do so in economic terms.

Germany provides 2.1 billion euro for humanitarian assistance

Germany has significantly expanded its humanitarian commitment in recent years. In 2020, the Federal Foreign Office provided more than 2.1 billion euro for humanitarian assistance – in other words, each and every citizen contributed around 26 euro for life-saving measures. However, even though donor countries are expanding their humanitarian assistance, this is not enough to address wide-scale challenges. The humanitarian system must change and move towards anticipatory assistance.

Anticipatory assistance: from response to prevention

Humanitarian assistance is usually only provided after a disaster. Today, humanitarian aid workers are increasingly seeking to intervene preventively prior to disasters. The technical progress of recent decades makes it possible to predict with increasing precision when and where there is a risk of hurricanes, drought or flooding. If such events are predicted with a high degree of probability, Germany provides preventive assistance, for example in the form of evacuation measures or financial assistance.

By providing proactive assistance, lives can be saved and damage averted. Prevention is also more efficient from a financial perspective – which is an important consideration in view of the growing need.

“Dzud” in Mongolia: providing assistance in extreme winters

The efficiency of anticipatory humanitarian assistance was demonstrated in Mongolia at the beginning of the year. Mongolia is hit by a “dzud”, an extreme winter, approximately once every ten years. In recent years, this extreme weather phenomenon has become increasingly frequent due to climate change. Metre-high snow, temperatures far below zero and frozen soils make it impossible for livestock to survive. What is more, a dzud is often preceded by a dry summer, which means that cattle have no chance to build up a sufficiently thick layer of fat. It is therefore not uncommon for several million animals to die in agony within the space of just a few weeks during a dzud, with devastating consequences for farmers and owners of small farm animals.

When meteorological forecasts in January this year indicated that a dzud was likely, aid organisations distributed preventive cash assistance totalling about 75 euro to 1500 affected families in 12 provinces. This enabled them to buy additional fodder and pay for veterinary treatment – the farmers were able to maintain their livestock and continue to make a living. One euro for anticipatory assistance saved six euro that would otherwise have been needed to compensate for the damage. The Federal Government’s humanitarian partners in over 60 countries around the world are pursuing similar approaches.

Foreign Minister Maas said the following in this regard:

It should be our aim to intervene before a crisis occurs. Germany therefore invested 30 million euro in preventive humanitarian actions in 2020.


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