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Italy has a rich and internationally recognised history of humanitarian intervention which is characterised by a large number of small to medium size actors and high participation of decentralised cooperation, a peculiarity of the Italian system.

Health, Assistance to refugees, Food security
Approx. € 11.500.000 for bilateral and multilateral intervention (2013)

Scope of involvement


Italy is particularly active in the Middle East and North Africa, in Sub-Saharan Africa but also in Latin America and Asia. In the 90s Italy was at the forefront of the intervention in the Balkans.


Turning point

Italy began to play an active role in humanitarian action in the 50s/60s mainly due to its commitment to the decolonisation process; in response to the deep changes in development cooperation and its increase of actors, and the debate on humanitarianism. Other important events that shaped the Italian system into what it is today are namely the food crisis of the 80s in the Sahel and the Horn of Africa, which led to the birth of a number of multi-mandate actors (mainly NGOs), and the 90s Balkans crisis as aforementioned. The latter corresponded with the first widespread involvement of the Italian Army and Civil Protection in humanitarian action in Albania and Kosovo respectively.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

Approximately 85% of Italian public funds for 2012 were destined to bilateral programmes implemented through direct management or in partnership with NGOs. Italian NGOs are primarily active in Afghanistan (emergency intervention to support refugees); Iraq (infrastructural support and assistance to IDPs); Kenya (health sector); Lebanon (Rehabilitating the olive oil sector in conflict areas); Palestine (Assistance to refugees); Kosovo (Reconstruction of cultural heritage, health, and social services); Somalia (education and health); Uganda (emergency intervention in WASH).

National Red Cross Society

Disaster preparedness & response and emergency intervention are two of the main activities of the Italian Red Cross, which works in collaboration with Civil Protection in case of emergencies caused by natural disasters. It is also involved in assisting migrants and refugees and in overseas operations.

Faith-based organisations

The first Italian actors to look towards the ’Third World’ emerged from civil society, mainly inspired by a catholic and missionary drive. One of the most important faith-based organisations in Italy is Caritas Italiana which is active both in the national and international spheres, particularly in emergency intervention and relief following natural disasters and in support to the economic and social development of communities, with a specific focus on African and Latin American countries.

Armed Forces

The Italian approach to international crisis management is based on the provision of civilian and military professionals in order to facilitate the maintenance and recovery of security conditions and local self-government in crisis-prone countries.

State humanitarianism

Ministries and State agencies involved

The interaction between different stakeholders is facilitated by the Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGDC) which coordinates different stakeholders and finances multilateral humanitarian intervention.
As a consequence of the 2014 reform aimed at providing the Italian development cooperation system with a legal framework, the Italian Agency for Cooperation and Development (AICS) was instituted. The agency promotes professional and innovative forms of cooperation, while aligning Italy with its European partners' standards.

Legal framework

Law 38/79 brought about two novelties: a new conceptualisation of cooperation and the creation of a new department within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; the Directorate General for Development Cooperation. The process was finalised under law 49/87 which lay the legal foundations for Italian humanitarian action, general discipline, principles and actors involved (local authorities, NGOs, National Service of Civil Protection). In early 2014, the Italian government agreed on a draft bill aiming at updating the latter, an important opportunity to provide a reformed legal framework to provide Italy with a medium to long-term direction for humanitarian and development cooperation in practice.

Principles and accountability

Italy may be considered to be the birthplace of modern humanitarian action. It was at Solferino, where Henry Dunant formulated in 1859 the first ideas that led to the definition of the principles of today’s humanitarian action. Italy has signed all relevant treaties and conventions and agreed on the adoption of the European Consensus on Humanitarian Action. It is part of the Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative and MFA and NGOs have elaborated new guidelines on humanitarian action.


Italian humanitarian action is carried out by different actors brought together as the so-called “System Italy” which is composed of four main pillars: International Organizations, NGOs (“horizontal cooperation”), Regions and Local Authorities (“decentralised cooperation”), private sector, and universities.

Specific roles of international organisations

European Commission

Italy channels almost half (46%) of its Official Development Assistance (ODA) through the European Union. Italy is the third net contributor to the EU budget in the area of development, and the fourth largest contributor to the European Development Fund (EDF), for a total of approximately 1.4 billion euro. Moreover 15 Italian NGOs are part of the Framework Partnership Agreement together with ECHO.


Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

Italy is engaged in both emergency phases and recovery and rehabilitation, with the aim of restoring proper socio-economic conditions and the safety of the people who have already received initial assistance. Italy aims to encourage a transition to development through the launch of multilateral initiatives: funding of multi-bilateral initiatives; the establishment of special funds to finance bilateral initiatives.

Civil Protection

The action of Civil Protection is closely linked to the disasters that struck nationally. Its activities include disaster forecast to identify risk scenarios and, when possible, to anticipate, supervise and monitor real-time risk events and expected risk levels; prevention, or minimisation of damage in case of disasters; relief and first aid intervention; transition from emergency state to pre-disaster conditions.

Specific expertise

An area of internationally recognised expertise relates to the preservation of cultural heritage in crisis areas as a crucial instrument of social recovery and cohesion as well as sustainable development.


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

There has been a growing demand for specific educational and training programmes in the humanitarian field. Universities and NGOs have progressively implemented programmes with the purpose of creating new professional operators for this sector. The Master degree in “Human Rights and Conflict Management” at the University of Pavia and the course on “International Humanitarian operations” at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa are two important programmes proposed in this field.

Seminar/short courses

Advanced Diploma on Humanitarian Intervention offered by ISPI-CIRPS


Berruti, D. 2007, Formare alla Cooperazione Civile-Militare. Sistemi pedagogici a confronto, Ricerche di Pedagogia e Didattica, 2.

MAE, 2012, Forum della Cooperazione Internazionale 2012. Gruppo 5: Il ruolo dell'Italia nelle aree di crisi. DOCUMENTO DI SINTESI. Viewed 8 May 2014, <http://www.cooperazioneallosviluppo.esteri.it/pdgcs/italiano/speciali/ForumCooperazione/Pdf/Gruppo5_Documento_sintesi.pdf>

MAE , n.d., Il Sistema Italia nella Cooperazione allo Sviluppo. Viewed 8 May 2014 <http://www.cooperazioneallosviluppo.esteri.it/pdgcs/italiano/cooperazione/SistemaItalia.html>

MAE , n.d., Linee Guida per l’aiuto umanitario Good Humanitarian Donorship Initiative Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship (2012-2015). Gruppo di Lavoro DGCS-ONG. Viewed 8 May 2014 <http://www.cooperazioneallosviluppo.esteri.it/pdgcs/italiano/LineeGuida/documents/GHDLineeGuida_finale.pdf>

Melgari, V. n.d., Pubblico e Privato. Nuove Partnership per l’Aiuto allo Sviluppo Valorizzare la sussidiarietà. Integrare ruoli e competenze nella cooperazione internazionale allo sviluppo, Link 2007, Viewed 8 May 2014, <http://www.link2007.org/assets/files/documenti/Pubblico%20privato%20dossier.pdf>

Protezione Civile, n.d., Attività del Servizio Nazionale, Viewed 8 May 2014, <http://www.protezionecivile.gov.it/jcms/it/attivita.wp>


Monica Bozzano, Sandro De Luca and Maria Sassi
University of Pavia

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