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Humanitarian aid

What is humanitarian aid?

Humanitarian aid means predominantly life-saving and protection during disasters and crises, both natural and man-made. Humanitarian aid consists in:

  • providing assistance and support to people exposed to protracted crises as well as forgotten crises;
  • carrying out post-disaster and post-crisis rehabilitation projects, in cooperation with local institutions, taking into consideration long-term development goals;
  • overcoming difficulties associated with migrations caused by natural disasters or crises caused by human activity;
  • disasters prevention and mitigation of their negative effects.

Funds for humanitarian aid are sourced from the state budget target reserve administered by the Development Co-operation Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In the case of the most severe crises, other state institutions may also make a decision to grant humanitarian aid and fund it from their budgetary resources in coordination with the MFA.


Objectives of humanitarian action

The principal objective of humanitarian aid is to save and sustain life as well as to maintain human dignity of people in danger and those affected by both natural and man-made disasters. Humanitarian aid also encompasses actions aimed at disaster prevention,strengthening disaster preparedness and disaster risk reduction.


Humanitarian actors

Over a span of the recent century an international humanitarian system has emerged and its structures have been gradually taking form of interrelated organizations fulfilling specific tasks. Its principal actors are: the United Nations (UN) system with UN OCHA playing a central coordinating role as well as governmental organizations, International Committee of the Red Cross and the Red Crescent and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

I. The UN carries out humanitarian actions through specialized agendas with specific humanitarian mandates:

  • United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), whose aim is to coordinate humanitarian aid carried out by various humanitarian actors;
  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR);
  • World Food Program (WFP);
  • United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF);
  • United Nations Development Program (UNDP);
  • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO);
  • World Health Organization (WHO);
  • International Organization for Migration (IOM).

II. Governmental organizations carry out humanitarian activities of respective states and closely cooperate with national Ministries of Foreign Affairs:

  • Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB);
  • Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA);
  • United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

III. Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

International Committee of the Red Cross is a special type of an organization. It operates pursuant to international agreements (Geneva Conventions), therefore it cannot be treated as a non-governmental organization or an organization representing will of whichever state.

The other part of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies which includes, among others:

  • Polish Red Cross;
  • Syrian Arab Red Crescent;
  • Indian Red Cross Society;
  • Swiss Red Cross.

IV. Non-governmental sector is represented by international, regional and local actors carrying out specific activities inresponse to humanitarian crises, independently of governmental institutions. Most commonly they carry out specific projects financed from means from various sources and act in close cooperation with governmental organizations and the UN agendas. For example:

  • Doctors Without Borders(Medecins Sans Frontieres);
  • Save the Children;
  • Oxfam;
  • Polish Humanitarian Action;
  • Polish Center for International Aid.

Multiplicity and variety of humanitarian actors, intensive development of organizations involved in humanitarian aid typical for the recent decade as well as thesudden and unexpected character of humanitarian crises cause difficulties inhumanitarian coordination. However, there is currently a trend leading to intensified institutionalization of aid aiming to ensure greater coherence, efficiency, predictability and contribute to the creation of systems that would allow to shape states’ resilience to humanitarian crises.


Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles

Humanitarian actions taken by Poland are carried out in accordance with the rules and principles of conduct acknowledged by the international community.

Poland, as a signatory of the “European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid”, Poland is committed to apply the “Principles and Good practice of Humanitarian Donorship”.

Polish humanitarian aid is carried out in accordance with the principles of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid. Therefore, it acts pursuant to the following principles:

  • humanity – the centrality of saving human lives, alleviating suffering and maintain human dignity wherever it is found;
  • impartiality – the implementation of actions solely on the basis of need, without discrimination between or within affected populations on the basis of nationality, race, politics and religion;
  • neutrality – humanitarian action must not favor any side in an armed conflict or other dispute where such action is carried out;
  • independence – the autonomy of humanitarian objectives from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

The key principle of Poland’s humanitarian aid is the needs-based approach, which means that the funds. are to be allocated adequately to the humanitarian needs and scale of the crisis. Humanitarian appeals and reports of humanitarian agendas of the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross as well as the results of assessments carried out by the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) entitled “Global Needs Assesment” and “Forgotten Crises Assessment” are particularly important tools in the  needs assessment. In response to humanitarian needs, it is also necessary to indicate the most vulnerable groups from the total number of victims and take into consideration special needs of women, children, the elderly, the sick and the disabled.

Polish humanitarian aid isprovided, in accordance with the principles listed above, mainly in the form of contributions to international institutions and in the form of grants to the humanitarian NGOs. Moreover, Polish Embassies also play an active role in humanitarian aid projects.



We invite you to see the results of the Eurobarometer public opinion survey on humanitarian aid and civil protection carried out for the Directorate-General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (DG ECHO) in Poland and other EU member states.  

The survey analyses the citizens awareness and attitudes towards the humanitarian activities implemented by the European Union for the member states and the third countries in response to crises in different parts of the world.

More information about the results of the survey is available on the website: http://ec.europa.eu/echo/eurobarometer/index_en.htm.

The results of the previous Eurobarometer on humanitarian aid and civil protection carried out in 2012 are available here.


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