2018 Democracy and Human Rights, Humanitarian Assistance Analysis

Underfunded Appeals: Understanding the Consequences, Improving the System

Sophia Swithern

The UN-coordinated appeals represent the largest combined request for humanitarian aid, and a central pillar of the humanitarian response architecture. In 2017, these appeals set out a record total requirement of US$25.2 billion. This was nearly double that of five years previously, but the financial shortfall has grown at an even greater rate.

There is a striking lack of reliable available evidence about the extent and impacts of underfunding. This study seeks to examine what is known and unknown about the consequences of underfunding, with a focus on three countries – Chad, Haiti and Somalia – through in-depth interviews, review of documentation and literature, and analysis of the financial data.

The report was presented during the seminar The State of the Underfunded Humanitarian System.


  • The agencies World Food Programme, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and UNICEF represented 55% of requirements and 62% of appeals’ funding in 2017. Over half of the agencies participating in the Chad, Haiti and Somalia appeals seemed to receive no funding at all.
  • Protection, water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), education, and camp management and early recovery have been consistently less than 50% funded.
  • In general the more severely affected locations were better funded, but still often underfunded.
  • It is known that underfunding, leads to drastic cuts to basic provisions however there is little documentation, and no systematic monitoring, of the ultimate consequences of underfunding.


  • Humanitarian organizations need to improve the reliability of need assessments, make existing funding better traceable and improve monitoring of results.
  • Donors need to use the appeals much more as a basis for funding, improve coordination between themselves and use flexible funding mechanisms to a much larger extent.

Sophia Swithern, Independent Consultant