If education cannot wait, then humanitarian aid needs to increase

The Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2018 (GHA 2018) was released last week along with UNHCR’s Global Trends Report. Just as there are more people displaced than ever before, levels of humanitarian assistance are also at an all-time high.

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The GHA 2018 report shows that humanitarian aid has been growing now for four years, albeit by only 3% from 2016 to 2017. Not only is humanitarian assistance growing in absolute terms; it is also growing as a percentage of overall aid budgets as a result of the growing impact of conflict and natural disasters.

The GHA 2018 report also tells us that over 200 million people needed international humanitarian assistance in 2017, a fifth of whom were in just three countries – Syria, Turkey and Yemen. The fact that Syria has been in the first place for five years is a reminder that crises are mostly protracted. No fewer than 17 of the 20 largest recipients of international humanitarian assistance in 2017 were either medium- or long-term recipients.

The increase of humanitarian aid levels in recent years has now finally trickled down to education, as our policy paper showed last month. Global humanitarian funding to education reached US$450 million in 2016, of which US$301 million addressed humanitarian response plans.

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However, the GHA 2018 report reminds us that there has been a 41% shortfall in the funds requested in UN-coordinated appeals. Many of the calls made by the education sector have therefore been left unanswered.  The share of education in total humanitarian aid was extremely low at just 2.1%. This is far below showed that even had the 4% target for education been reached, millions of people would have been left without assistance.

Why education isn’t higher up the agenda is a mystery. Especially when you know, as we showed in 2011, that conflicts in low-income countries have been lasting for over a decade, longer than most children and youth in these countries would typically spend in school. And that education is far more than a first response in crises: it is also a strategic partner for fixing the root of the problem. Education is still not seen as immediate and life- saving and is downgraded as a priority. Life-saving interventions are typically funded first, as the below graph from the GHA 2018 shows. Nor have attempts to link humanitarian and development aid been anything more than timid.


We are two years since the World Humanitarian Summit, when donors agreed to find a new way of working. It was then that Education Cannot Wait was launched, a fund established to provide education to children in crises aiming to collect $3.85 billion by 2020. As of March this year, the Fund had invested $81 million in 14 crisis-affected countries. Welcome, but not enough.

The GHA 2018 report suggests that the humanitarian aid landscape is not changing apart from a few tweaks around the edges. But education cannot wait. Where will the response we need come from?


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