Aid poll methodology, results and participants

by AlertNet | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 26 January 2012 10:00 GMT

How we did the survey, a summary of the findings, and a list of agencies that responded

Humanitarian news website AlertNet has conducted a survey of international aid groups, exploring trends in humanitarian aid and expectations for the future. This forms the core of an AlertNet special report:


The survey was carried out among major international aid groups (NGOs and the Red Cross movement) in November and December 2011. Reponses were received from 41 aid agencies, mainly headquartered in Europe and the United States. In most cases, the respondent was the agency’s head, its director of humanitarian/disaster response or a senior official working on humanitarian programmes. The respondents were asked to complete an online questionnaire that covered the future drivers of humanitarian need; challenges to aid delivery; funding; and the efficiency of the international aid system. 


The main findings are presented below, including a brief explanation of how the questions were formulated.         

Which factors are most likely to increase humanitarian need in the coming years? 

Agencies were asked to choose three factors from a list of nine, and rank them in terms of importance, 1 being the most important. Points were then awarded to each answer: 1 = 3 points, 2 = 2 points, 3 = 1 point

(Factor: number of points) 

Increase in climate-related disasters (floods, droughts, storms etc): 101

Displacement caused by environmental degradation/climate change: 36

Urbanisation: 29

High and volatile food prices: 26

Rise in the number of failing states: 23

Other: 13

Population growth: 10

Earthquakes/tsunamis: 6

Infrastructure development (dams, nuclear power plants etc): 2 

An increase in climate-related disasters topped the factors most likely to increase humanitarian need in the coming years, with 28 out of 41 aid agencies giving it the highest ranking. It scored 101 points, nearly three times more than the second most important factor, which was displacement caused by environmental degradation and climate change (36 points).

This was followed by urbanisation in third place with 29 points. High and volatile food prices were fourth with 26 points, and a rise in failing states fifth with 23 points. 

Please explain your choices

Free response question 

Here is a selection of quotes from respondents:

“Climates do appear to be increasingly hostile and erratic and people are struggling to cope…. Volatile and rising food prices erode people's discretionary spending and force them into cycles of increasing debt. This is particularly true of urban populations who have fewer options for producing food, and have to buy it.”

“Urban disasters are going to change the dynamics of how we work as an industry.”

“Climate change is impacting/increasing natural disasters and the unpredictability of crops, causing increased food insecurity, displacement and increased potential for additional risks, hazards and loss or damage of life, livelihoods, infrastructure and community. Related to this, there is increased migration to urban centres away from rural areas prone to disaster, and in search of livelihoods which may not rely as heavily on agriculture. In turn, this increase in urbanisation is putting extreme pressures on urban centres from (the perspective of) infrastructure, fiscal and social services in a way that bypass DRR (disaster risk reduction) standards.”

“Frequency and intensity of disasters is on the increase. There are more mega-disasters as well as many more smaller-scale crises that no longer reach the headlines. There is no doubt that many of these are climate-related. Global food price rises represent a global crisis that will continue to create humanitarian need over the coming decade. Sprawling unplanned urbanisation means that many more people are 'at risk' in the event of natural disasters hitting cities and towns.”

“Climate-driven disasters will exacerbate situations in places where disasters already occur periodically. It may be coupled with food access problems due to price and availability also. Further, conflict driven disasters will likely rise as conflict over diminishing resources, coupled with population growth, pits people and governments against one another.”

“The Arab spring has shown how precarious many national leaders are and there are a number of countries which are looking increasingly fragile/unstable.”

What should aid agencies do to cope better with the factors selected above?

Free response question

More than half the aid agencies polled (22 out of 41) referred to some form of disaster risk reduction (DRR) - whether they meant investing money in DRR, rallying political will for it, or practical steps such as teaching local communities first aid and building back better. DRR was the most common theme in response to this answer.

Other priorities were devising urban response strategies and stronger linkages between the humanitarian and development sectors to tackle the underlying causes of poverty, which makes people more vulnerable to crises.

What are the biggest challenges to the delivery of humanitarian aid?

 Aid agencies were asked to select three challenges from a list of eight, each choice carrying an equal weighting. 

(Challenge: percentage of agencies that selected/number of agencies that selected)

Politicisation of aid: 63 percent/26                          

Increasingly complex disasters: 54 percent/22

Squeezed government budgets: 51 percent/21

Violence against aid workers: 49 percent/20

Militarisation of aid: 37 percent/15

Public disillusionment with aid agencies: 15 percent/6

Other: 15 percent/6

Arrival of new actors (private sector, faith-based groups etc) – 12 percent/5

How should aid agencies adapt to these challenges?

Free response question

The most common point raised was the importance of involving and investing in local communities, governments and NGOs. Eleven out of the 36 aid groups that responded to this question referred to the need to give more power and more say to local people in some way.

Another popular suggestion - made by seven respondents - was that aid agencies should do more to diversify their sources of funding, and become less reliant on government donors that traditionally account for the bulk of funds.  

Other ideas included better communication about what aid agencies do; promotion of and adherence to humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality; and more effective coordination among agencies. 

What is the single most important obstacle to adapting?

Aid agencies were asked to select one obstacle from a list of six. 

(Obstacle: percentage of agencies that selected)

Limited resources: 35 percent

Other: 22 percent

Lack of long-term planning: 20 percent

Institutional inertia: 16 percent

Too many disasters: 5 percent

Rivalry between aid groups: 2 percent

Do you expect your organisation’s humanitarian spending to rise, fall or stay the same over the next five years? By how much in percentage terms?

Free response question

18 agencies said they expect a rise, although not everyone gave an estimate. Of those that did, the range was wide: from a 5-percent increase to a doubling.

4 expect humanitarian response spending to stay the same or rise slightly. 12 expect it to stay the same. 3 expect it to fall. 4 did not answer one way or another.

Some cited a rising number of climate-related disasters in recent years, and others the persistence of long-running conflict-related crises as reasons for boosting spending.

If you expect humanitarian spending to rise, what will be the main source(s) of that extra funding?

Free response question

20 out of the 31 agencies that answered this question see the private sector as being one source of the additional humanitarian funding they will require. The private sector includes individual donors (the general public), foundations, trusts and private corporations.

What percentage of your organisation’s annual spending goes on reducing the risk of disasters to vulnerable populations? 

Free response question

14 out of the 41 aid agencies said they could not answer this question, because it was hard to pin down or they lacked the data. Of the 23 that did give a figure, 16 said they spent 10 percent or less on disaster risk reduction (DRR), while a few groups that said they have mainstreamed DRR across their operations gave much higher percentages. The rest gave only a vague response to the question.

Do you plan to increase this? By how much in percentage terms and over what time frame? 

Free response question

25 out of 41 agencies said they plan to increase DRR spending, or would like to if the money can be found (some said this is a problem because of tight budgets and a lack of donor interest in DRR).

Of these 25, only one gave a full answer, saying DRR spending would rise by 15-20 percent over the next 3 years. 17 indicated there would be an increase but gave no details. 7 said an increase was planned, and gave partial information - they were vague either about the timeframe or percentage, or expressed it as a hope.

7 said no increase was planned. 9 did not say one way or another.

How will the sources of humanitarian funding most likely look in five years' time? 

Aid agencies were asked to select one response from four options. 

(Option: percentage of agencies that selected/number of agencies that selected)

Governments will still provide the bulk: 46 percent/19

There will be a growing gap between funding and needs, as government and private donations fall: 29 percent/12

Governments will have cut aid budgets heavily, with donations from individuals and companies filling the gap: 25 percent/10

A major proportion will be funded by international taxes (e.g. on financial transactions): 0 percent/0

How will the distribution of humanitarian funding most likely look like in five years’ time? 

 Aid agencies were asked to select one response from three options. 

(Option: percentage of agencies that selected/number of agencies that selected)

The system will continue to use a range of channels, as now: 78 percent/32 agencies

Donors will bypass the U.N., giving money directly to national governments and charities: 17 percent/7

Most aid will go through a central fund for emergencies managed by the U.N.: 5 percent/2

How important do you think the U.N. aid system will be to humanitarian response over the next decade? 

Aid agencies were asked to select one response from five options. 

(Option: percentage of agencies that selected/number of agencies that selected)

The same as now: 56 percent/23

Of dwindling importance: 22 percent/9

Of growing importance: 17 percent/7

Indispensible: 5 percent/2

Obsolete: 0 percent/0

Do you agree with the following statement: "The international humanitarian aid system delivers value for money?" 

Aid agencies were asked to select one response from five options. 

(Option: percentage of agencies that selected/number of agencies that selected)

Agree: 59 percent/24

Disagree: 25 percent/10

Strongly agree: 7 percent/ 3

Don’t know: 7 percent/3

Strongly disagree: 2 percent/1

What is the one change you would make to the humanitarian aid system to boost value for money? 

Free response question

The most common suggestion was to reform the U.N. in some way, including reducing the amount of funds that go through the U.N. system and cutting U.N. bureaucracy, overheads and transaction costs. Eight agencies referred to changing the U.N.’s role or operating procedures in answer to this question.

Another point that cropped up several times was investing more in vulnerable local communities and recipient developing-nation governments, as well as better integration of aid agency work with national/local efforts.

Others urged NGOs to become more corporate and professional in their approach, ranging from a stronger focus on outcomes and performance, to ensuring that the growing number of newcomer NGOs adhere to basic standards.

Additional suggestions included an international accountability scheme, better coordination, faster and more predictable access to funding, and slimming down cumbersome reporting and coordination procedures.

Here is a selection of quotes from respondents:

“Get the money that is channeled through the U.N. into the hands of more INGOs and local NGOs - as opposed to being passed around the UN - for program implementation in the field.”

“Reduce waste and eliminate inefficiencies in the coordination and delivery of humanitarian aid among the various actors. This would include the high overheads/high paying consultancies among institutional donors (e.g. the UN).”

“More collaboration among all the agencies which deliver humanitarian aid (governmental and non-governmental) including enhanced participation of the victims of the disaster in responding to first needs and implementing reconstruction.”

“Depends how you define VfM (value for money), but if it’s about quality and accountability, (as well as cost effectiveness, timeliness etc), then developing a commonly agreed and effective international quality and accountability scheme.”

“Providing more credible leadership through less marketing and spinning, and ensuring that actions match words.”


List of aid agencies that took part in the survey

ACF - Action Against Hunger

ADRA - Adventist Development and Relief Agency



Caritas International

Christian Aid

Concern Worldwide


Danish Refugee Council


FinnChurchAid, part of the ACT Alliance

Habitat for Humanity International

Handicap International

HelpAge International

International Committee of the Red Cross

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

International Rescue Committee

International Relief and Development


MSF - Medecins Sans Frontieres

Medical Teams International

Mercy Corps


Muslim Aid

Norwegian People’s Aid

Oxfam GB

Partners in Health

Plan International

Practical Action


Save the Children UK

Solidarites International

SOS Children’s Villages


Terre des Hommes International Federation

UMCOR - United Methodist Committee on Relief

War Child UK


World Concern

World Relief

World Vision

This article is part of an AlertNet special report on humanitarian aid:

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.