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Children waiting their turn to fill their containers at a handpump in the town of Douma, 10 kilometers from the Syrian capital Damascus. Making sure that there is safe drinking water is one of the priorities during a crisis.

Photo: Bassam Khabieh, © UNICEF

Humanitarian aid - how it works

Updated: 3 September 2015

Contributions of food, water, basic health care and protection for victims are vital when an earthquake strikes, a flood occurs, a food crisis spreads or a violent conflict forces people to flee. The acute phase of a crisis also calls for emergency workers and medical personnel.

A humanitarian crisis occurs

Requests for financial support to a humanitarian crisis often comes as an emergency appeal from the United Nations. For protracted crises these appeals are made once a year for each country or region. The appeals are repeated during the year as a crisis worsens or doesn't get sufficient funding. For a sudden crisis such as an earthquake, the UN launches a flash appeal as soon as possible after the disaster has occurred.

Sida allocates support to various crises

Our humanitarian funding is used for both protracted and acute humanitarian crises.

Protracted crises: At the beginning of the year we allocate part of the humanitarian budget to a number of crises with huge humanitarian needs. The distribution is based on humanitarian crisis analysis that determine the needs in different crisis areas. There are continuous adjustments during the year to meet the current needs.

Sudden crises: Part of the annual humanitarian budget is set aside for sudden humanitarian crises and deteriorations of major ongoing crises. For these situations we have a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), together with partner organizations, that makes it possible to fund lifesaving interventions worldwide within 24 hours.

Sida allocates support to various actors

For a humanitarian operation to be effective you need good coordination between all the actors involved. Sweden channels humanitarian assistance through a variety of actors based on their comparative advantages, such as:

  • UN agencies for their role to lead, coordinate and conduct humanitarian operations and administrate joint donor humanitarian country funds.
  • The Red Cross for its unique role in international humanitarian law and the strengthening of local capacity.
  • Civil society organizations for their specific expertise, proximity and contact with local people and knowledge of the specific conditions in the field.
  • Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB) for its supportive role to the UN.


The biggest challenges when addressing the world's ongoing humanitarian disasters are:

  • Difficulties gaining access to affected areas.
  • Difficulties to guarantee the security of aid workers.
  • Difficulties finding actors to partner with in several conflict zones.
  • A lack of long-term solutions for refugees and internally displaced people.

Page owner: Communication Unit

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