Humanitarian aid

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Humanitarian aid is assistance given to people in distress by individuals, organisations, or governments to relieve suffering. The term often carries an international connotation, but this is not always the case. Many full time, professional humanitarian aid organisations exist, both within government (USAID, DFID, ECHO), and as private voluntary organizations (or non-governmental organisations, e.g. Oxfam, Mercy Corps). The International Committee of the Red Cross is unique in being mandated by international treaty to uphold the Geneva Conventions.

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is mandated to coordinate the international humanitarian response to a natural disaster or complex emergency (normally linked to conflict), acting on the basis of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 46/182.

It is often distinguished from development aid by being focussed on relieving suffering caused by natural disaster or conflict, rather than removing the root causes of poverty or vulnerability.

The Humanitarian Charter of the Sphere coalition of leading private voluntary organisations lists the following principles of humanitarian action:

  1. . The right to life with dignity.
  2. . The distinction between combatant and non-combatants.
  3. . The principle of non-refoulement.

Related articles


Humanitarian aid is action taken by governments, agencies or citizens aimed at saving lives, alleviating suffering and maintaining human dignity of people in need. It is driven by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence (rather than politics).

Humanitarian aid is part of foreign aid (but distinct from development aid), and covers both humanitarian action and humanitarian assistance.

Humanitarian action is the protection of civilians and provision of vital services by aid agencies during and after man-made emergencies (like wars) and natural disasters.

Humanitarian assistance is the provision of funding or in-kind services (like logistics or transport) by governments or private entities in response to humanitarian crises, usually through humanitarian agencies or the government of the affected country.

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