Defining Humanitarian Aid

“Humanitarian aid” is aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies. The characteristics that mark it out from other forms of foreign assistance and development aid are that:

  • it is intended to be governed by the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence
  • it is intended to be short-term in nature and provide for activities in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. In practice it is often difficult to say where ‘during and in the immediate aftermath of emergencies’ ends and other types of assistance begin, especially in situations of prolonged vulnerability.

Traditional responses to humanitarian crises, and the easiest to categorize as such, are those that fall under the aegis of ‘emergency response’:

  • material relief assistance and services (shelter, water, medicines etc.)
  • emergency food aid (short-term distribution and supplementary feeding programs)
  • relief coordination, protection and support services (coordination, logistics and communications).

Humanitarian aid can also include reconstruction and rehabilitation (repairing pre-existing infrastructure as opposed to longer-term activities designed to improve the level of infrastructure) and disaster prevention and preparedness (disaster risk reduction (DRR), early warning systems, contingency stocks and planning).

Source: Global Humanitarian Assistance

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