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The humanitarian action sector in Poland has accompanied the broader process of transition to the ‘West’ after 1989 and the shift from being an aid recipient to being a donor government.

Education, Nutrition, Health
Refugees, Children, Women
13,95 million PLN (~€ 3,4 million) - official humanitarian assistance (2012)

Scope of involvement


The biggest recipients of Polish official humanitarian assistance in 2011-2012 were Afghanistan, Libya, Horn of Africa, South Sudan and Syria.


Turning point

The broadening scope of the Polish humanitarian sector was particularly visible in the mid-1990s when Europe witnessed violent conflicts in the Balkans and Caucasus. For instance, the siege of Sarajevo (1992-1996) triggered the founding of Polska Akcja Humanitarna (PAH; Polish Humanitarian Action), a leading NGO in the sector.

Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

The list of humanitarian actors is relatively short and that of NGOs is even shorter, the principle entities are Polish Humanitarian Action, Polish Centre for International Aid, Foundation for Somalia; these are involved in both field operations as well as education and training. Funding is acquired through own SOS appeals and fundraising initiatives or through applying for grant allocations from specific budget of the MFA.

National Red Cross Society

The Polish Red Cross is an important humanitarian actor focusing on training, education (expertise in international humanitarian law) and advocacy.

Faith-based organisations

The development of the humanitarian sector in Poland is closely linked with the principle of solidarity with less privileged and vulnerable populations, with whom the Poles sympathised due to their own past experience and the moral obligation of charitable activities deeply rooted in Polish Christian tradition. The principal faith-based organisation is Caritas Poland.

Private Sector

The private corporation AIDPOL delivers products in the WASH, nutrition and renewable energy sector.

State humanitarianism

Ministries or state agencies involved

Tasked to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs under the 2011 Development Cooperation Act, all action is coordinated by the Humanitarian Unit of the Department of Development Cooperation. The Unit collaborates with international humanitarian organisations and other donors, as well as supports humanitarian activities of Polish NGOs.

Legal framework

On the 1st January 2012 the Development Cooperation Act of 2011 came into force. It clearly states that humanitarian aid, next to development assistance and global education, is an important policy instrument and part of the development cooperation priorities of the Polish government. The Act defines humanitarian aid as, in particular, "providing aid, care and protection of a population affected by armed conflict, natural disaster or other humanitarian crises caused by nature or man".

Principles and accountability

Recent developments indicate an attempt to build capacity, institutionalise and create frameworks for cooperation in the humanitarian sector in Poland. It primarily constitutes compliance with international or regional standards, such as the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid or Good Humanitarian Donorship principles, broadening of geographic and institutional scope of activities, and a certain level of professionalisation of the humanitarian work force. Polish official humanitarian assistance responds not only to urgent and unexpected events, but also tries to address the protracted and forgotten crises.

Specific roles of international organisations

United Nations

UNHCR, UNICEF and UNDP have their representations in Poland.


Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

Since many actors involved in humanitarian assistance are also dealing with development aid, the concept of “Linking Relief, Rehabilitation and Development” along with a necessity to build disaster resilience and to address protracted crises is gaining importance in the sectorial discourse.

Civil Protection

State Fire Service institutions are active in response, logistics and protection.

Humanitarian Education

Higher education

Few comprehensive Humanitarian Action educational programmes are available, these are taught at the University of Warsaw (UW) and include, above all, a Postgraduate Certificate in Humanitarian Assistance launched recently (Fall 2013) in cooperation with Polish Humanitarian Action. UW is a member of the Network on Humanitarian Action (NOHA) and is planning to become part of NOHA Joint Master's Programme in International Humanitarian Action by 2015.

In-house training

While humanitarian education remains relatively limited, both in terms of number of education providers and the scope of programmes offered, a few of the humanitarian actors organise training courses for their employees, whereas others seek support in educational institutions. Nonetheless, acquiring skills and competences through their own field experience is a reality of many individuals.

Seminar/short courses

The majority of programmes focus on international humanitarian law (Polish Red Cross, military educational centres) and civil protection (State Fire Service training centres), they are usually short-term courses and vocational forms of training, conducted in a conventional way.


GRIMM, S., HARMER, A. (2005) Diversity in donorship: the changing landscape of official humanitarian aid. Aid donorship in Central Europe. London: Humanitarian Policy Group.

POLAND. MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS (2013) Polska pomoc humanitarna 2011-2012 (Polish Humanitarian Aid 2011-2012), Warsaw: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Development Cooperation.


Artur Malantowicz
University of Warsaw

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