Humanitarian aid is material or logistical assistance provided for humanitarian purposes, typically in response to humanitarian crises including natural disaster and man-made disaster. The primary objective of humanitarian aid is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain human dignity. It may therefore be distinguished from development aid, which seeks to address the underlying socioeconomic factors which may have led to a crisis or emergency.
According to The Overseas Development Institute, a London-based research establishment, whose findings were released in April 2009 in the paper 'Providing aid in insecure environments:2009 Update', the most lethal year in the history of humanitarianism was 2008, in which 122 aid workers were murdered and 260 assaulted. Those countries deemed least safe were Somalia and Afghanistan.
The beginnings of organized international humanitarian aid can be traced to the late 19th century. One of the first such examples occurred in response to the Northern Chinese Famine of 1876–1879, brought about by a drought that began in northern China in 1875 and lead to crop failures in the following years. As many as 10 million people may have died in the famine.
British missionary Timothy Richard first called international attention to the famine in Shandong in the summer of 1876 and appealed to the foreign community in Shanghai for money to help the victims. The Shandong Famine Relief Committee was soon established with the participation of diplomats, businessmen, and Protestant and Roman Catholic missionaries. To combat the famine, an international network was set up to solicit donations. These efforts brought in 204,000 silver taels, the equivalent of $7-10 million in 2012 silver prices.
A simultaneous campaign was launched in response to the Great Famine of 1876–78 in India. Although the authorities have been criticized for their laissez-faire attitude during the famine, relief measures were introduced towards the end. A Famine Relief Fund was set up in the United Kingdom and had raised £426,000 within the first few months.
Early attempts were in private hands, and were limited in their financial and organizational capabilities. It was only in the 1980s, that global news coverage and celebrity endorsement were mobilized to galvanize large-scale government-led famine (and other forms of) relief in response to disasters around the world. The 1983–85 famine in Ethiopia caused upwards of 1 million deaths and was documented by a BBC news crew, with Michael Buerk describing "a biblical famine in the 20th Century" and "the closest thing to hell on Earth".
Live Aid, a 1985 fund-raising effort headed by Bob Geldof induced millions of people in the West to donate money and to urge their governments to participate in the relief effort in Ethiopia. Some of the proceeds also went to the famine hit areas of Eritrea.
Aid is funded by donations from individuals, corporations, governments and other organizations. The funding and delivery of humanitarian aid is increasingly international, making it much faster, more responsive, and more effective in coping with to major emergencies affecting large numbers of people (e.g. see Central Emergency Response Fund). The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) coordinates the international humanitarian response to a crisis or emergency pursuant to Resolution 46/182 of the United Nations General Assembly.
The total number of Humanitarian Aid workers around the world, has been calculated by ALNAP, a network of agencies working in the Humanitarian System, as 210,800 in 2008. This is made up of roughly 50% from NGOs, 25% from the Red Cross/ Red Crescent Movement and 25% from the UN system.
The humanitarian fieldworker population has increased by approximately 6% per year over the past 10 years.
During the past decade the humanitarian community has initiated a number of interagency initiatives to improve accountability, quality and performance in humanitarian action. Four of the most widely known initiatives are the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action (ALNAP), Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP), People In Aid and the Sphere Project. Representatives of these initiatives began meeting together on a regular basis in 2003 in order to share common issues and harmonise activities where possible.
People In Aid
The People In Aid Code of Good Practice is an internationally recognised management tool that helps humanitarian aid and development agencies enhance the quality of their human resources management. As a management framework, it is also a part of agencies’ efforts to improve standards, accountability and transparency amid the challenges of disaster, conflict and poverty. 
Under an overarching principle "people are central to the achievement of our mission", the Code links together aims and indicators in seven areas:
- Health, safety and security
- Learning, training and development
- Recruitment and selection
- Consultation and communication
- Support, management and leadership
- Staff policies and practices
- Human resources strategy
Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International
Working with its partners, disaster survivors, and others, Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International (or HAP International) produced the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management. This certification scheme aims to provide assurance that certified agencies are managing the quality of their humanitarian actions in accordance with the HAP standard. In practical terms, a HAP certification (which is valid for three years) means providing external auditors with mission statements, accounts and control systems, giving greater transparency in operations and overall accountability.
As described by HAP-International, the HAP 2007 Standard in Humanitarian Accountability and Quality Management is a quality assurance tool. By evaluating an organisation's processes, policies and products with respect to six benchmarks setout in the Standard, the quality becomes measurable, and accountability in its humanitarian work increases.
Agencies that comply with the Standard:
- declare their commitment to HAP's Principles of Humanitarian Action and to their own Humanitarian Accountability Framework
- develop and implement a Humanitarian Quality Management System
- provide key information about quality management to key stakeholders
- enable beneficiaries and their representatives to participate in program decisions and give their informed consent
- determine the competencies and development needs of staff
- establish and implement complaints-handling procedure
- establish a process of continual improvement
The Sphere Project
The Sphere Project handbook, Humanitarian Charter and Minimum Standards in Disaster Response, which was produced by a coalition of leading non governmental humanitarian agencies, lists the following principles of humanitarian action:
- The right to life with dignity
- The distinction between combatant and non-combatants
- The principle of non-refoulement
The Quality Project, based on The Quality COMPAS tool, is an alternative project to Sphere, taking into account the side effects of standardisation and those of an approach based on "minima" rather than the pursuit of quality. This project is led by Groupe URD.
- Category:Humanitarian and service awards
- Attacks on humanitarian workers
- Humanitarian access
- International humanitarian law
- Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
- Timeline of events in humanitarian relief and development
- Humanitarian Response Index
- World Humanitarian Day
- Caritas (charity)
- DARA (international organization)
- Global Village Champions Foundation Inc., 501(c)(3)
- Humanitarian Accountability Partnership International
- International Committee of the Red Cross
- International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement
- International Rescue Committee
- Islamic Relief
- Jugend Eine Welt
- LDS Humanitarian Services
- Malteser International
- Medair, International Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation
- Mercy Corps
- Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF (Doctors Without Borders)
- Save the Children USA
- Save the Children
- Shelter Centre
- WFP Geneva Liaison Office
- World Concern
- World Food Programme
- World Vision International
- Edgerton-Tarpley, Kathryn, "Pictures to Draw Tears from Iron" http://www.ocw.mit.edu/ans7870/21f.0271/tears_from_iron/tfi_essay.pdf, accessed 25 Dec 2013
- Janku, Andrea (2001) "The North-China Famine of 1876-1879: Performance and Impact of a Non-Event." In: Measuring Historical Heat: Event, Performance, and Impact in China and the West. Symposium in Honour of Rudolf G. Wagner on His 60th Birthday. Heidelberg, November 3rd - 4th, pp. 127-134
- China Famine Relief Fund Shanghai Committee, pp. 1, 88, 128, 157 http://www.archive.org/details/cu31924023248796, "Epidemic Chinese Famine" http://www.faculty.kirkwood.edu/ry/ost/Famine.htm, accessed 6 Dec 2012
- Dowden, Richard (17 March 2010). "'Get real, Bob - buying guns might have been better than buying food': After Geldof's angry outburst, an expert on Africa hits back". Mail Online (London). Retrieved 18 June 2010.
- "In 1984 Eritrea was part of Ethiopia, where some of the song's proceeds were spent". Archived from the original on 2009-05-11. Retrieved 2009-05-08.
- State of the Humanitarian System report, ALNAP, 2010, pg. 18
-  - Background to the People In Aid Code of Good Practice
- Capacity.org - A Gateway for Capacity Development
- The Economist - Certifying Aid Agencies, 24 May 2007
- Reuters Alernet Website - Can a certificate make aid agencies better listeners? 6 June 2008
- HAP-International Website - The HAP 2007 Standard
- Larry Minear (2002). The Humanitarian Enterprise: Dilemmas and Discoveries. West Hartford, CT: Kumarian Press. ISBN 1-56549-149-1.
- Waters, Tony (2001). Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan: The Limitations of Humanitarian Relief Operations. Boulder: Westview Press.
- James, Eric (2008). Managing Humanitarian Relief: An Operational Guide for NGOs. Rugby: Practical Action.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Humanitarian aid.|
- Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance
- APCN (Africa Partner Country Network)
- UN ReliefWeb
- The ODI Humanitarian Policy Group
- Code of Conduct for the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and NGOs in Disaster Relief
- Professional Standards for Protection Work
- The Center for Disaster and Humanitarian Assistance Medicine (CDHAM)
- Centre for Safety and Development
- EM-DAT: The International Disaster Database
- CE-DAT: The Complex Emergency Database
- ATHA: Advanced Training in Humanitarian Action