A record year for humanitarian aid

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Women plant vegetables in Sierra Leone

Farmers in Sierra Leone inspect their vegetables. 2000 vulnerable farming families received support from Belgium via FAO in 2020.​ © FAO

Record during the pandemic

Despite this pandemic, Belgium continues to support the most vulnerable in emergency situations. In 2020, our country even made a record sum of 197 million euros available. This is an increase of almost 16% compared with 2019, when Belgium spent 170 million euros on humanitarian aid.

To assist with the pandemic in particular, Belgium earmarked 22 million euros for OCHA, the UN agency that coordinates the response to humanitarian crises, among other recipients. According to the Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2021, Belgium ranks 16th among the world's leading humanitarian donors.

Solidarity as a moral duty

Belgium considers it extremely important to be involved in efforts to help people in emergency situations. 'Humanitarian aid is a moral duty and an expression of the universal value of solidarity between peoples,' explains Nora Loozen, Head of the Humanitarian Aid Unit at FPS Foreign Affairs. 'Belgium draws inspiration for its humanitarian aid from humanitarian law, the principles and practices of good humanitarian donorship, and the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid.'

What is striking is that Belgium's humanitarian aid spending budget has increased continuously in recent years. This increase reflects the rising humanitarian needs, according to Nora Loozen. 'The number of natural disasters and complex conflict-related crises has risen sharply in recent years, and the crises are longer and more complex. Due to causes such as climate change, the global food crisis, population growth, urbanisation, and other socio-economic phenomena, an increasing proportion of the population, especially in the South, is more likely to be facing an emergency situation. Pandemics, economic uncertainty, and conflict are putting additional pressure on the most vulnerable populations.'

The majority of Belgian humanitarian aid goes to the Middle East, where there are long-running conflicts in Yemen and Syria. When Belgium was a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, it always advocated unhindered humanitarian access in the region. In addition, Belgium has a special focus on the Sahel. The Great Lakes region has also received a notably large amount of support, especially the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Shepherds with animal feed

Pastoralist families in Niger received animal feed in 2020. The relief action was part of a special EUR 2.5 million envelope of covid emergency aid through the FAO. © FAO

Types of aid

So Belgium spends a great deal on humanitarian aid, but how exactly does it differ from development co-operation?  'Development co-operation focuses on poverty reduction, whereas humanitarian aid's primary purpose is to save lives, alleviate suffering, and preserve human dignity,' says Loozen.

Humanitarian aid also differs from development co-operation in terms of objectives, methods, and also often region. For example, humanitarian aid workers often work in areas where no development actors are present. To be clear, our humanitarian aid partners are humanitarian organisations, not states.

'It is true that humanitarian crises may vary greatly, from one-off, sudden crises to chronic crises that can last for many years,' notes Loozen. These crises can be due to natural disasters, human factors or a combination of both. Belgian humanitarian aid is not limited to emergency interventions in the event of a crisis, but also supports activities to prepare for disasters (early warning, early action) and campaigns for recovery and reconstruction.