Relationship between humanitarian and development aid


What is the available literature on the humanitarian-development relationship? If possible, identify conclusions, knowledge gaps and whether opinion has changed over time.


There are various approaches to understanding the relationship between humanitarian and development aid. Some literature points to a specific time period; envisaging the humanitarian-development gap as a temporal period when a humanitarian operation is about to be completed, and development and reconstruction projects are about to begin. Others refer to an institutional gap which is not only about the practical problems of coordinating humanitarian and development institutions, but fundamental differences in priorities, cultures and mandates. More recent debates have included an emphasis on linking humanitarian aid and development with security, in the context of post-2011 western foreign policy.

Despite a broad body of literature on the relationship between humanitarian and development aid, there is limited specific guidance on how to address perceived gaps, and few practical examples of how donors and others have implemented change. Some of the commonly cited challenges, and approaches to address them, include:

  • Conceptual, institutional and strategic gaps: Differences in working principles, mandates and assumptions can present challenges for operationalising LRRD. Internally, the institutional arrangements of some donors present a clear division in the delivery of humanitarian and development aid. While externally, disunity among donor agencies and a lack of dynamism to respond to events have created strategic gaps in the delivery of different forms of aid. Approaches to tackling such gaps include: decentralising planning, analysis, and funding allocation; establishing joint humanitarian and development offices; and creating operational frameworks that incorporate both a long-term perspective into humanitarian work, and issues of vulnerability and risk in development work.
  • Funding gaps: There is inconsistent evidence about the existence of a temporal funding gap between the humanitarian and development phases of a response. However, more comprehensive evidence of a systematic funding gap for recovery activities, and evidence that fragile state do not receive the necessary support. Lack of flexibility in funding arrangements is a particular concern. Approaches to making humanitarian funding more flexible and longer-term include multi-year funding options, strategic partnerships instead of project grants, and pooling resources.
  • Partnerships and coordination: Some donors’ implementing partners may lack the expertise or capacity to work across different forms of aid or to coordinate their activities. Others may specialise in either humanitarian or development aid and find it difficult to draw linkages between the two. In terms of approaches, evaluations have found that programmes with strong local engagement and local partnerships on the ground are often more successful at marrying short- and long-term perspectives. Examples of approaches to improving donor coordination include compacts, multilateral joint assessments, and mutual accountability frameworks.
  • Refugees and displaced persons: The perception that displaced persons can only be addressed through humanitarian means can impede or delay the achievement of sustainable solutions, and lead to protracted displacements and a cycle of dependence on humanitarian assistance. In terms of approaches, the transitional solutions initiative aims to position displacement at the core of recovery and development strategies through advocacy, coordination, capacity building and resource mobilisation. The approach focuses on building relationships between bilateral and multilateral actors to support local processes and local ownership, and finding sustainable solutions for displaced persons and local communities.