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humanitarian sector in Europe

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In Austria, humanitarian action is largely charity-based, it is linked to development cooperation, relies primarily on ad-hoc donations and volunteer support, and is often driven by media-coverage of large-scale disasters.

: 43
Health, Nutrition, Water & sanitation
Disaster victims, Children, Refugees
10 mill. €/year; private expenditure 25 to 100 mill. €/year

Scope of involvement


The general interest for humanitarian action has been highest in political crises of neighboring countries which involved refugees.


Turning point

A triggering event was the crisis in the former Yugoslavia in 1992, this prompted the Austrian TV station together with the Red Cross and NGOs to start the private fundraising organisation "Neighbour in Need” which since then raised nearly 200 Million € for disaster relief abroad.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

NGOs account for the bulk of humanitarian expenditure and can be considered to be the backbone of the Austrian humanitarian sector. 10 NGOs are specifically accredited for humanitarian action. As NGOs are relatively well coordinated, they have some influence on Austria’s humanitarian policy and are actively involved in shaping it.

National Red Cross Society

The Austrian Red Cross has the lead role in humanitarian action and the majority of personnel abroad.

Armed Forces

The Austrian Armed Forces focus mainly on disaster-relief inside the country.

State humanitarianism

Ministries and state agencies involved

The main state actors are the Ministry of Interior (in-kind and personnel deployment in international disaster response and cooperation with EU Civil Protection Mechanism), the Ministry for European and International Affairs (funding and political oversight) and the Ministry for Agriculture (food aid).

There is lack of a systematic approach in state support for humanitarian action and no central agency for humanitarian action.

The setup of the Auslandskatastrophenfonds AKF (fund for disaster relief abroad) has constituted a major success; the fund allows the federal government to provide financial means for disaster response, rehabilitation and reconstruction to international organisations, NGOs or the Austrian Development Agency (ADA). The fund was founded in 2009 with a budget of 5 Million € and the current government has pledged to increase the amount to 10 Million €.

Principles and accountability

NGOs criticise the lack of a long-term focus or priority for humanitarian action and strategical planning and call for introducing clear organisational structures, developing a coherent strategy, investing in disaster-prevention, and raising funds for official humanitarian aid.


The Austrian Development Agency (ADA), the operational unit of the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC) in the Ministry for European and International Affairs, cooperates with IGOs and NGOs accredited with ADA. A coordination platform between the Ministry and NGOs was set up in 2011. NGOs and the Red Cross cooperate regularly in a humanitarian aid working group and representatives of state and private actors in international humanitarian aid meet to discuss current issues and short-term developments.

Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

Humanitarian action is linked with development cooperation through the Austrian Development Agency (ADA).


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

There is no higher education course or degree in humanitarian action. Topics such as disaster management are part of university programmes. Short courses on aspects of humanitarian action by higher education institutions allow learning on particular elements of humanitarian action.

Considering the limited number of recruitment opportunities within the Austrian humanitarian action sector, the establishment of a fully-fledged university course on humanitarian action in Austria is questioned by the humanitarian sector. Those seeking higher education in the humanitarian sector often go abroad to find specialised programmes which combine their specific technical sector with humanitarian action.

In-house training

The Fire Brigades, Austrian Red Cross, and Armed Forces mainly rely on their respective in-house training systems tailored to volunteers. Humanitarian professionals are mainly selected based on field experience and specific professional qualifications. Training and good knowledge of the humanitarian aid systems are seen as an asset rather than a requirement.

Seminar/short courses

Humanitarian aid organisations seem to argue for more specialised seminars linked to mainly technical areas (e.g. logistics in humanitarian aid, nutrition in emergencies, legal aspects of disaster relief, etc.) which would introduce those interested in humanitarian action to specific areas of the sector.


AUSTRIAN MINISTRY OF THE INTERIOR. Zivilschutz in Österreich Einsatzorganisationen. [Online] Available from: http://www.bmi.gv.at/cms/BMI_Zivilschutz/mehr_zum_thema/Einsatzorganisatione.aspx. [Accessed: 03 May 2014].

AUSTRIAN ARMED FORCES. The Forces. [Online] Available from: http://www.bundesheer.at/english/forces/index.shtml. [Accessed: 03 May 2014].

AUSTRIA. FVA - FUNDRAISING VERBAND AUSTRIA, Spendenbericht 2012 ( Fundraising Report 2012). [Online] Available from: http://fundraising.at/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=omVuGp1Cdrk%3d&tabid=394&language=de-DE. [Accessed: 03 May 2014].

AUSTRIA. HUMANITARIAN CONGRESS VIENNA. (2013) Fact Sheet Official Austrian Humanitarian Aid. [Online] Available from: http://www.humanitaerer-kongress.at/wp-content/uploads/Factsheet_English.pdf. [Accessed: 03 May 2014].

AUSTRIA. AUSTRIAN DEVELOPMENT AGENCY. (2010) Evaluation of Humanitarian Aid of the Austrian Development Cooperation 2004-2008, Final Report. [Online] Available from: http://www.entwicklung.at/uploads/media/Evaluierung_HuHi_2004-2008_Endbericht_Juni_2010_01.pdf. [Accessed: 03 May 2014].

SPAIN. DARA DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANCE RESEARCH ASSOCIATES. (2008) Humanitarian Response Index 2008., [Online] Available from: http://daraint.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/HRI_2008_COMPLETE_REPORT.pdf. [Accessed: 03 May 2014].


Dr. Gerd Oberleitner and Mag.iur. Reinmar Nindler, University of Graz

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