International Humanitarian Assistance

Canada, through its International Humanitarian Assistance Program, aims to save lives, alleviate suffering, and maintain the dignity of those affected by conflicts and natural disasters by providing appropriate, timely, and effective responses.

More than 90 percent of those affected by natural disasters—earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, landslides, and volcanoes—live in developing countries. The poverty, high-density populations, and environmental degradation affecting most of the people in these countries make them the most vulnerable to disaster and least able to help themselves when it happens.

The complex humanitarian situations that arise from civil war and conflict, most often characterized by widespread violence, a breakdown of law and authority, and massive population movements, also affect the world's poorest countries disproportionately.

The primary responsibility for responding to disasters lies with the government of the affected country. Usually, the affected communities themselves and their governments provide a significant first response to emergencies.

When the needs of the affected communities exceed the capacity of their government to respond, Canada and governments around the world provide assistance through an established international humanitarian response system. This system includes:

Canada's commitment

Canada is committed to providing appropriate, timely, and effective humanitarian assistance, in line with the Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship.

Canada's primary response to crises is financial support to organizations that make up the international humanitarian system. Based on an assessment of needs following a crisis, these organizations ensure that disaster-affected and conflict-affected people are physically safe, receive health care, and have food, water, and shelter. Four general principles guide these actions:

  • Humanity—Central in saving lives and alleviating suffering
  • Impartiality—Actions must be implemented solely based on need, without discrimination between populations or within an affected population
  • Neutrality—Actions must not favour any side in an armed conflict or other dispute
  • Independence—All objectives must be autonomous from political, economic, or military objectives

Key results

Over the past several years, Canada has made significant efforts to strengthen its own humanitarian response capacity, while working with other donor governments and key humanitarian partners to strengthen and broaden the international humanitarian system.

Canada has played a leadership role in the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative, which aims to improve donor response to humanitarian crises, and has taken a number of actions to improve the timeliness, flexibility, and equity of its humanitarian funding. These include:

  • Strong support for innovative funding mechanisms, such as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), has allowed key humanitarian partners to respond to a crisis in a more timely and coordinated fashion.
  • Increasing to 100 percent the amount of food aid that can be purchased in developing countries. This has allowed Canada to respond to food crises faster and more efficiently, with more appropriate food commodities (Canada Boosts Aid in Response to the UN World Food Programme's Global Appeal 2008-04-30).

Canada has also invested considerable efforts in strengthening the broader international humanitarian system. These include:

  • Working with other donors and the United Nations in shaping the development of CERF. The fund provides a predictable source of money for rapid response and addresses the needs of so-called "forgotten emergencies." An independent review commissioned in 2008 found that "CERF has proven itself as a valuable and impartial tool, becoming in a short time-frame an essential feature of international humanitarian action and complementing other humanitarian financing mechanisms." The evaluation concluded that "the Fund helped to accelerate response times and increase coverage of needs, in addition to serving as a catalyst for improved field-level coordination, and evidence-based prioritization."
  • Supporting key research activities such as Development Initiatives' Global Humanitarian Assistance Programme, which publishes an annual in-depth report on humanitarian financing.
  • Supporting the development and dissemination of standards in the most important sectors of humanitarian response through the Sphere Project.
  • Participating in and providing support to learning and accountability initiatives such as the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action.

Funding guidelines for partners

Related Links

Key partners