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A unique feature of the humanitarian sector in Spain is the multiplicity of public regional actors (State, Autonomous Communities, local entities) who participate and fund projects through their own budgets and strategies.

Health, Nutrition, Emergency shelters
Children, Internally Displaced People
EUR 30 million in 2013 (Spanish Humanitarian Action Office) to be completed with the budgets of the Autonomous Communities and local entities.

Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

Few NGOs are exclusively focused on humanitarian action (mainly MSF, Action against Hunger and UNRWA Spanish Committee) but many of them (about 40) develop some kind of humanitarian activities. The nature of their projects is very diverse so it is difficult to identify a common pattern of specialization. Africa and Latin America have been traditional areas of work of these NGOs.

National Red Cross Society

The international activities of the Spanish Red Cross in the field of humanitarian action were not significant until the nineties, when it was addressed a process of modernization, democratization and access to greater autonomy. Its activities are focused mainly on the distribution of food and non-food items, the treatment and access to safe water and the prevention of diseases and promotion of health and hygiene. The location in Spain of one of the four world logistic centres of the IFRC explains the important role of the Spanish Red Cross in the humanitarian logistics.

Faith-based organisations

The first humanitarian activities in Spain were carried out by the Catholic Church and the private catholic organizations. The Catholic Church, through its charity institutions (Caritas, Manos Unidas, Justicia y Paz), is one of the most important recipients of private donations.

Armed Forces

The first mission of the Spanish army with a remarkable humanitarian component was deployed in Bosnia in 1992. Since 1989 the Spanish army has participated in about sixty peacekeeping and humanitarian aid operations and deployed around 70,000 soldiers. Currently about 1,500 Spanish soldiers are deployed in missions that have, among others, a humanitarian aim, mainly in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Mali and Somalia.

State humanitarianism

Ministries and State Agencies involved

Until 2009-2010 the Spanish public humanitarian sector was an acknowledged player within the sector and had gained an important level of maturity and strength. The drastic decrease of the public funds allocated to humanitarian action (over a 70%) has reversed this trend and brought this sector under a deep crisis.

The origins of the public humanitarian sector are usually located at the end of the eighties, but when the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation was created (1988) no mention to humanitarian action was made within its objectives. The first humanitarian campaigns in which the Spanish Government was involved were the conflict in the Balkans and certain natural disasters in Latin America and Caribbean. Initially, humanitarian action was understood as a response to emergencies based on the urgent delivery of aid kits, including food. The evolution to a more comprehensive humanitarian action policy started with the approval of the Director Plan for 2005-2008, which remarked the important role of humanitarian action within the ODA. During this period, a Strategy of Humanitarian Action was formulated (2006) and the Office of Humanitarian Action was founded (2007). Some Autonomous Communities formulated their own strategies and created institutional structures for humanitarian action even before the State.

Legal framework

The Preamble of the 1978 Spanish Constitution proclaims the willingness of Spain to cooperate in the strengthening of peaceful relations and effective cooperation among all peoples of the earth. Some important norms are the International Development Cooperation Law 23/1998, of 7 July, and the Royal Decree 1527/1988, of 11 November, which created the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation.

Humanitarian Education

Higher education

In Spain the great majority of the programmes are non-official degrees, not recognized by the Spanish Authorities by means of a certification process. There is also a lack of education programmes offered at EQF level 6 (Bachelor) and the vast majority of them start from EQF level 7 (Masters). More than a half of the total number of programmes with humanitarian contents are focused mainly on development cooperation and include a module dedicated to humanitarian action so humanitarian action appears constantly overlapped with cooperation development regardless of its own characteristics, specificity and independence.

In-house training

The education of the humanitarian employees is usually acquired through their own professional and field experiences although NGOs with more financial resources have their own internal training programmes. Collaboration agreements between Universities and NGOs with the aim to allow humanitarian professionals to participate in the education process as teachers or designing the contents of the programmes are a growing trend in this sector.


Aznar, Federico. (2010). “Fuerzas Armadas y Acción humanitaria. Debates sobre su utilización conjunta”. Boletin de Información del Centro Superior de Estudios de la Defensa Nacional (CESEDEN), nº 136, Ministerio de Defensa.

Carreras, Ignasi; Sureda, María. (2013). La colaboración efectiva en las ONG. Alianzas estratégicas y redes, Instituto de Innovación Social-ESADE, Fundación PwC.

DARA. (2012). Donor assessment. HRI 2011. Spain. Available at http://daraint.org/list-of-articles/articles-by-country/?country=10&=Find+articles.

Gilsanz Blanco, Juncal. (2006). “La acción humanitaria desde la universidad española. Análisis de experiencias y propuestas de actuación futura” en Cuadernos del IECAH, nº 6, IECAH.

Intermón-OXFAM. (2013). La realidad de la ayuda 2012. Una evaluación independiente de la ayuda y las políticas de desarrollo en tiempos de crisis, Intermón-OXFAM.

Institute of Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IECAH). (2009). Summary of legislation and humanitarian action plans in the Spanish Autonomous Communities. Available at http://www.iecah.org/web/index.php?option=com_joomd&view=joomd&layout=detail&id=573&Itemid=82.

Instituto de Innovación Social – ESADE, Fundación La Caixa, Fundación de PwC. (2013). Estudio sobre el presente y futuro del tercer sector social en un entorno de crisis, Fundación PwC.

Pérez de Armiño, Karlos. (2005). “Situación y tendencias de la acción humanitaria en las Comunidades Autónomas”, en IECAH (ed.) La acción humanitaria en 2003-2004: Años convulsos, respuesta insuficiente, IECAH, Madrid.

Plataforma del voluntariado en España. (2011). “Diagnóstico de la situación del voluntariado de acción social en España” en Informes, Estudio e Investigación 2011, Ministerio de Sanidad, Política Social e Igualdad.

Rey, Francisco. (2013). La acción humanitaria pública española: en peligro de extinción, Institute of Studies on Conflicts and Humanitarian Action (IECAH). Available at http://www.iecah.org/web/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2280:la-accion-humanitaria-publica-espanola-en-peligro-de-extincion-&catid=15:articulos&Itemid=9.


María Nagore Casas*
University of Deusto, Bilbao

*In consultation with a group of experts (Joana Abrisketa, Cristina Churruca, Enrique Eguren, Xabier Garay and Gorka Urrutia) who met in a workshop held at the University of Deusto on 2 December 2013.

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