30 country profiles reflecting
the state and diversity of the
humanitarian sector in Europe

Click on the flags to explore
Summary of
all countries

The UK has traditionally been one of the largest donors of humanitarian aid. Its role as a former colonial power and a global power during the World Wars runs parallel to the development of humanitarianism as a movement.

Health, Education, Water and sanitation
Children, Youth, Women
In 2012/13, ODA budget: 8,698 million £ (10,590 million euros). In 2011, budget strictly for humanitarian assistance: 866 million euros.

Scope of involvement


After the Second World War the success of the Marshall plan changed the understanding of foreign aid. As some colonies and parts of Empires were getting their independence, the U.K. government declared in 1955 that aid would be extended to former colonies whether members of the Commonwealth or not. Currently, aid is based mainly on needs and vulnerabilities. 73.9% of the UK's official humanitarian assistance was spent in fragile states in 2011.


Types of stakeholders

NGO in general

The two World Wars, and particularly the risk of hunger in continental Europe was important for the development of main NG0s such as Oxfam (Oxford Committee against Famine) or Save the Children. The UK tradition has always been one of multi-mandate agencies with a focus on poverty alleviation. This leads them to be more interested in the links between relief and development than more ‘Dunantist’ humanitarian agencies. The UK saw then a mushrooming of NGOs, increasingly specialised, operating overseas. A number of NGOs have also been interestingly set up by expatriate or migrant communities focusing specifically on target groups in their country of origin.

Faith-based organisations

Protestant ethics were historically important in the development of civil society and particularly of ‘charities' and ‘private relief organisations' (particularly of the Quaker movement). As a remnant of post-colonial migration politics and multiculturalism a plethora of faith-based organisations, representative of the numerous religious groups coexisting in the UK, have been founded, a number of multi-mandate ones are increasingly engaged in the sphere of humanitarian action.

Armed Forces

The armed forces of the UK are involved both in peacekeeping and peacebuilding operations overseas. They are also often tasked with the delivery of humanitarian and disaster relief. Action has taken place independently, with the US, the UN and together with the EU, depending on the mission in question.

State humanitarianism

Ministries and State Agencies involved

The Ministry of Overseas Development was formed in 1974. This was followed by the creation of ODA then DFID (1997) brought to the level of a ministry, with particular responsibilities for aid delivery but also for research and understanding of contexts and of country policies.

In 2013, the UK Government achieved the target to contribute 0.7% of its national income in aid, when the UK’s total aid expenditure reached £11.4 billion, or 0.72% of national income.

Legal framework

The main target of development policies is poverty reduction with measurable goals (based on MDG) much more than strictly humanitarian action. The stress is also put on conflict and conflict resolution, particularly after 9/11 when security issues have been linked to the aid sector.

In response to an independent Humanitrarian Emergency Response Review (HERR) in March 2011, the United Kingdom set out a policy framework to guide its own practice over the next four years as well as to help shape system-wide reform. Its commitments are based around the core principles of resilience, anticipation, leadership, innovation, accountability and partnership. The United Kingdom has said that its funding for humanitarian emergencies will be: 1) Multilateral, through core predictable increased support for humanitarian partners, through mechanisms such as the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and "new mechanisms" to support NGOs, 2) "Where there is compelling and overwhelming need", providing additional funding to the international system where it needs additional resources to save lives, including funding to governments and local civil society, and 3) Direct, where there is comparative advantage, or overwhelming public interest


Specific focus

Linking Relief Rehabilitation Development

There is often a clear willingness to link relief to development. All forms of solidarity are often linked together. Approaches such as right-based programming, capacity building or resilience enhancement are common to all.


Specific expertise

The UK has traditionally had strong expertise on food security and livelihoods approaches (such as the Household Economy, DFID livelihoods).

The United Kingdom has also developed expertise on evidence-based applied research and accountability. ODI (Overseas Development Institute) is the UK's leading independent think tank on international development and humanitarian issues. Its mission is to inform policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods in developing countries. The Humanitarian Policy Group (HPG) runs the Humanitarian Practice Network. It provides an independent forum for policy-makers, practitioners and others working in or on the humanitarian sector to share and disseminate information, analysis and experience, and to learn from it. Other NGOs or think tanks such as ALNAP (Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action), ECB (Emergency Capacity Building Project) or ELRHA (Enhancing Learning and Research for Humanitarian Assistance) have been leading cutting edge researches and learning initiatives.


Humanitarian Education

Higher education

28 Higher Education institutions are hosting mainly post graduate level programmes in humanitarian and development education. These programmes are purely academic or practice-based; general (covering all forms of solidarity) or highly specialised. Among the specialised ones, programmes in tropical health (Liverpool or London), water and engineering (Loughborough), shelter after disaster, humanitarian action and conflict (Oxford Brookes) or refugee studies (University of Oxford) can be mentioned as top leading ones.

In-house training

In-house trainings are also an important means for enhancing skills and competences. An example is the Humanitarian Leadership Academy run by Save the Children which trains humanitarian leaders and responders mostly located in vulnerable crisis affected countries and communities in order to spread best practice and knowledge of effective humanitarian action.

Specialised organisations

Some specialised NGOs have been developing in order to give specific training on humanitarian and development matters. These are working individually and as part of networks such as the Training Providers Forum, aiming at improving access to quality training through a greater collaboration between training providers and Sharing learning and good practice. These include INTRAC (supporting and strengthening civil society), BOND (advocacy, fundraising, project management and effectiveness), RedR (skills of local aid workers), People in Aid (enhancing impact through organisational effectiveness) and Mango (financial management).


Barder, O., (2005) Reforming Development Assistance: Lessons from the U.K. Experience, Center for Global development, Working Paper n. 70, October http://www.cgdev.org/sites/default/files/4371_file_WP_70.pdf

UK Government Department for International Development https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/department-for-international-development or www.dfid.gov.uk

Overseas Development Institute http://www.odi.org.uk/about and http://www.odi.org.uk/sites/odi.org.uk/files/odi-assets/publications-opinion-files/7084.pdf

Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (2011) https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/67579/HERR.pdf

Humanitarian Emergency, Response Review: UK Government Response, July 2011 https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/67489/hum-emer-resp-rev-uk-gvmt-resp.pdf

DAC peer review (2010) http://www.oecd.org/dac/peer-reviews/45519815.pdf


Dr. Brigitte Piquard and Angela Hatherell
Oxford Brookes University

This site uses cookies to enhance user experience and to track usage statistics. For more information, see NOHA’s Data Privacy Policy.