International development

Responding to humanitarian crises

In recognition of Scotland's role as a good global citizen, we have traditionally responded to some international humanitarian crises in addition to our ongoing International Development Programme, including for humanitarian crisesIn 2017, we established an annual £1 million per annum Humanitarian Emergency Fund (HEF). Its purpose is to provide effective assistance to reduce the threat to life and wellbeing of a large number of a population face with a humanitarian Emergency.

The HEF is supported by an expert Panel comprising eight representatives from leading humanitarian aid organisations in Scotland. The HEF Panel has appointed a Chair and Coordinator, and we have appointed the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) secretariat to support the HEF Panel.

Funding from the HEF is phased through the year and split equally into two funding streams, to be distributed between two different types of emergencies:

  • emergencies which lead to a public DEC Appeal
  • emergencies that do not lead to a public DEC Appeal

Read the Humanitarian Emergency Fund annual reports to find out about which crises have been support by the fund so far:

In June 2019 we undertook an Independent Review of the HEF to consider the period from the HEF’s establishment in spring 2017 to summer 2019. This review set out to explore the success of the fund so far and make recommendations on how the fund could improve. The review was based on a range of interviews with key stakeholders and sector experts, as well as desk review of HEF documentation and publications from leading agencies, thought leaders and think-tanks working on humanitarian assistance. This review will be used to support the work of the HEF panel from 2020 onwards.

The HEF Panel normally operate on three years cycles, with new appointments made by the Scottish Government after an independent assessment process. The HEF Panel is made up of eight international NGOs, who all bring a wealth of experience and expertise to our humanitarian responses. The current HEF Panel (as at 2022) is constituted of the following members:

  • Mercy Corps
  • Oxfam
  • British Red Cross
  • Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF)
  • Christian Aid
  • Tearfund
  • Save the Children
  • Islamic Relief

Humanitarian emergencies we have funded

2022 to 2023

In July 2022, we provided £250,000 from the HEF to support people affected by the hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa (Ethiopia and Somalia). The region faced its driest conditions in 40 years, with the impact on food supplies made worse by global grain supply disruption as a result of the illegal Russian invasion of Ukraine. The funding was split between Christian Aid for their work in Ethiopia, including providing children and pregnant and breastfeeding women with supplementary nutrition, and Islamic Relief for their project in Somalia, delivering emergency assistance for victims of the drought, as well as improving water access and hygiene in four Internally Displaced People camps in Beledweyne District, near the Ethiopian border.

In September 2022, we committed £500,000 from the HEF to respond to the flooding in Pakistan. This was awarded to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Pakistan Floods Appeal.

In February 2023, £500,000 was awarded to the Türkiye and Syria Earthquake Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal.

In February 2023, we provided £500,000 from the HEF for a response to the East Africa food crisis (covering Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and South Sudan). The funding was split between Christian Aid in South Sudan (£125,000), Mercy Corps in Kenya (£125,000), SCIAF in Ethiopia (£125,000) and Tearfund in Ethiopia (£125,000).

In March 2023, we awarded a further £500,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee Pakistan Floods Appeal from our International Development Fund in recognition of Pakistan being one of our four international development partner countries.

In March 2023, we pledged £400,000 for Malawi to assist with relief efforts in response to Cyclone Freddy, following mass loss of life and displacement of around 500,000 people in Malawi. We are routing this funding through members of our standing HEF Panel. 

2022 – Malawi – Storm Ana response

Tropical Storm Ana destroyed homes and crops, leaving 680,000 people in need of life-saving and life-sustaining humanitarian assistance in Malawi, one of our four international development partner countries.

In early March 2022, we provided £400,000 via the British Red Cross as part of the Storm Ana Emergency Appeal to support the Malawi Red Cross.

As well as meeting the immediate needs of families affected by the disaster, the Malawi Red Cross is supporting communities to rebuild their homes and livelihoods as well as helping to improve resilience against future disasters.


In early 2022, we made additional funding for humanitarian crises available, outwith our normal £1 million per annum Humanitarian Emergency Fund which the HEF Panel allocates as above.

We are currently responding to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine. On 28 February 2022, the First Minister announced that we would provide both financial aid (firstly, an initial £4 million) and medical supplies to Ukraine following the illegal invasion by Russia.

Following that initial announcement of humanitarian aid and medical supplies for Ukraine, we have updated that:

  • medical supplies have been sent to Ukraine from Scotland: Medical supplies for Ukraine
  • the DEC Appeal for Ukraine launched on 3 March 20222. We announced that we would allocate £2 million of the £4 million for Ukraine to the DEC appeal. In announcing the donation, the First Minister urged the people of Scotland to back the appeal, telling MSPs it’s the “fastest and most efficient way” to support charities responding
  • we updated our ReadyScotland website which provides guidance around supporting humanitarian causes and making donations in a safe and effective way. This has been updated to reflect the developing situation in Ukraine, and signposts to reputable non-profit organisations such as the DEC, UNICEF and other leading Scottish humanitarian charities such as Mercy Corps and SCIAF, all of which have launched fundraising appeals for Ukraine and are able to target support quickly to those most in need

The current global focus on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine also serves as a reminder that every day people around the world suffer from natural and man-made humanitarian disasters. We are a proud contributor in responding to humanitarian crises each year, for less well known crises, as well as through our longer term International Development Programme. Humanitarian crises we have funded over the last years, including during this financial year alone, are set out below.

2021 to 2022

In 2021, we made £600,000 available to the people of Afghanistan through the Humanitarian Emergency Fund, through two separate activations of the HEF, including donating £240,000 to the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Appeal for their appeal launched on 15 December 2021. This will provide crucial help to those desperately in need in the midst of this harrowing crisis.

In October 2021, we announced that £240,000 would be made available from the HEF to Panel members responding to the growing food emergency in South Sudan. SCIAF and Christian Aid received funds from the HEF for food distribution in the region, which is facing famine following the combined impact of conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, ebola, locusts and floods.

2020 to 2021

In February 2021 we announced that over £340,000 would be made available from the HEF to support vulnerable people affected by the ongoing conflict in Tigray region in Ethiopia. The funding was split equally between Tearfund, SCIAF and Mercy Corps to provide urgent humanitarian assistance, including food, improved access to basic hygiene materials and medical care, to affected communities in Tigray and refugees displaced to Sudan. 

In October 2020 we awarded £100,000 from the HEF to Save the Children to support in the aftermath of severe flooding in Niger. The funding was awarded to support projects delivering food supplies and helping vulnerable children in the West African country.

In September 2020 we announced that £300,000 would be made available from the HEF to support in the aftermath of the explosion in Beirut. The funding was split equally between the British Red Cross, Christian Aid and Tearfund to provide funds for those affected by the disaster to access essential supplies and to support community based organisations delivering vital services.

In July 2020, £240,000 was awarded from the HEF to a Disasters Emergency Committee appeal to support an emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis, focused on vulnerable displaced communities and refugees.

2019 to 2020

In March 2020 we awarded £338,000 from the HEF following the deterioration of food security in Ethiopia brought on by drought, floods, conflict and locust infestation. The funds were awarded to Oxfam, Christian Aid and Tearfund to improve food security, deliver pesticides with training to combat the locust outbreak, and cash transactions and crop seeds to improve food security. 

In October 2019 we announced £100,000 was available from the HEF to support vulnerable families fleeing conflict in north-west Syria. The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) will aid Islamic Relief in Syria who are working to support over 6,000 people who have been displaced by fighting. This is part of a wider programme to aid 42,000 displaced persons. With this money, vulnerable families, including those with pregnant women or those headed by children or the elderly, will be given vouchers to pay for a choice of non-food items in shops, such as essential items such as blankets and mattresses which will in turn support the local economy.

In July 2019 we released £200,000 from the HEF to support the Ebola crisis in the Demographic Republic of Congo (DRC). The British Red Cross and Christian Aid both received £100,000 each aid efforts in containing the disease and prevent a potentially catastrophic spread of the virus. Due to the risks facing front line responders during the activation period, we did not make a public announcement of our funding support. As the situation has now stabilised we are acknowledge our support and provide an end of response report on the success of the intervention.

In March 2019 we announced £150,000 would be made available for Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe following Cyclone Idai. The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) launched a fundraising appeal following the cyclone that has left a trail of destruction in the south east African countries. More than 400,000 people have lost their homes and vital infrastructure has been destroyed by major flooding. At least 480 people have lost their lives. A further £50,000 was allocated to support emergency flood relief in Malawi, in addition to £175,000 which will be delivered through University of Strathclyde’s HydroNation programme.

2018 to 2019

In January 2019 we announced £220,000 would be made available from the HEF to support refugees in Colombia, displaced from Venezuela. The money is being channelled through two aid agencies, Tearfund and SCIAF, to provide vital food, shelter and health supplies to refugee settlements. 

In November 2018 we announced £300,000 would be made available from the HEF to support communities displaced by conflict in Mali. Two projects by Mercy Corps and Tearfund were awarded £100,000 each. These projects will help meet essential food and sanitation needs of over 700 households in communities impacted by the crisis.

In October 2018 we announced £240,000 from the HEF would be released to support those affected by the Indonesia tsunami. The funding was split between the DEC Appeal and non-DEC members of the HEF Panel (Mercy Corps, SCIAF and MAF) to provide food, clean water, first aid and shelter.

In July 2018 we announced £300,000 would be made available from the HEF, to provide emergency aid for people affected by conflict in Syria, Yemen and South Sudan. The funding was distributed equally between British Red Cross (Syria), Mercy Corps (Yemen) and Tearfund (South Sudan) to provide urgent food, water, shelter, sanitation and health support.

2017 to 2018

In February 2018 we announced £293,000 would be made available from the HEF, to provide immediate aid for people affected by the escalating crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The funding was allocated to SCIAF (£97,922), Tearfund (£97,920) and Christian Aid (£97,920) to provide food, shelter and access to safe water for thousands of people across DRC.

In September 2017 the First Minister pledged £120,000 from the HEF for the response to the hundreds of thousands of civilians, the majority Muslim Rohingya, forced to flee Burma towards Bangladesh. The funding will be divided between Christian Aid and Oxfam to work with local partners in Bangladesh to provide help to refugees who urgently require food, sanitation and health support.

In September 2017 we announced £300,000 from the HEF, would be distributed to help support people left homeless following floods that ravaged South Asia. The funding, was split between three projects administered by Save the Children in India, Oxfam in Bangladesh and Tearfund in Nepal.

In July 2017 we announced the first funding released from the HEF, which was allocated to the East Africa crisis. The funding, split between the DEC Appeal and non-DEC members of the HEF Panel, will support vulnerable families in East Africa suffering from the effects of the famine and food crisis.


Scotland has always contributed to helping people affected by international humanitarian crises through the work of the Department for International Development (DFID), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and individuals.

However, in recognition of Scotland's role as a good global citizen, Scottish Ministers have wished to respond to some international humanitarian crises as well. Since 2005 we have responded to a range crises in East Africa, Yemen, Nepal, West Africa, the Philippines, Syria, DRC, Gaza, Haiti, and Pakistan. In 2017 this was formalised by the establishment of the Humanitarian Emergency Fund.

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