The state of the humanitarian system

Humanitarian action provides a lifeline to people during some of the hardest moments of their lives. And for those who have experienced the worst that conflict and disaster can inflict, it can provide a flickering reminder of humanity. People can die even in the most effective humanitarian responses, including those who risk their lives to deliver them. For many others, humanitarian assistance becomes a mainstay, shaping their lives and opportunities over decades. With such high stakes, humanitarians have an obligation to learn and improve. This applies equally to the largest international agencies and the smallest local civil society actors.

This report supports this learning by monitoring changes in the shape and size and performance of the international humanitarian system. It is a unique, independent longitudinal study that gathers and synthesizes evidence to form a picture of the system and assess how well it meets the needs of people affected by crises. There have been four previous editions of the report, beginning with a pilot study in 2010. This fifth edition covers the period from January 2018 to December 2021 inclusive.

The last edition of the “State of the humanitarian system” (SOHS), published at the start of 2018, charted a three-year period during which the humanitarian system made a set of high-profile commitments to change; the World Humanitarian Summit and Grand Bargain on humanitarian financing followed a suite of global summits on climate change, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. In the four years covered by this 2022 edition of the report, these high-level intentions were stress-tested against the realities of implementation as they faced both the constraints of the humanitarian system and the challenges of turbulent crises – not least those stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Authors: Alice Obrecht (ALNAP SOHS Lead), Sophia Swithern with Jennifer Doherty

Published by: Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance (ALNAP)

Published: September 2022

Download: ‘The state of the humanitarian system

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