Humanitarian response in middle-income countries


What evidence, lessons and best practice have emerged from previous humanitarian responses in middle income countries (MICS) that may be of particular relevance to ongoing responses across MENA?


The literature uncovered by this rapid review indicates that there is very little evidence available about the way in which humanitarian response is carried out in middle income countries in comparison to low income contexts (or an amalgamation of the two). Where there have been evaluations of humanitarian response in middle income countries, they have not really focused on transferable lessons or best practice for similar situations.

Evidence, best practice and lessons emerging from the available literature for humanitarian response in middle income countries include:

  • Middle income countries generally have national capacity to lead the humanitarian response, and international humanitarian efforts should collaborate with these national systems and be carried out in partnership with the national government and civil society organisations. However, progress still needs to be made as international actors sometimes struggle to partner effectively with national organisations and have ended up setting up parallel systems.
  • Responding to humanitarian crisis in middle income countries has a higher financial cost as they are more expensive locations than many low income contexts.
  • The current humanitarian financing system does not provide enough support for middle income countries and the funds available to them are ill-suited to crisis response. As a result there are calls to make financing for refugees in middle income countries eligible for grants and concessional loans by reclassifying the eligibility criteria of the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) to follow the people in need and not the income levels per capita of the countries, for instance.
  • In middle income countries, the needs of those affected by crisis often intersect with the needs of other vulnerable communities. As a result, humanitarian response in middle income countries should work together with development efforts. This will involve responding to the needs of refugees/affected populations and host communities and supporting existing services.
  • Cash-based assistance may be more appropriate than in-kind assistance, especially in highly monetised economies. In some crises in middle income countries, cash transfer distributions have been linked to existing social protection systems.
  • The private sector could be supported to be more involved in humanitarian response in order to take advantage of private capital for humanitarian response and potentially help make humanitarian response quicker, bigger and more effective.
  • Previous experience suggests avoiding camp based solutions and proactively reaching out to urban refugees.
  • Planning and assessment should be flexible and quick to ensure activities remain relevant.


Suggested citation

Rohwerder, B. (2016). Humanitarian response in middle-income countries (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1362). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.