Trust, risk and learn

Evaluation of the humanitarian assistance given by the Netherlands
– funding and diplomacy 2015-2021

To report
Kinderen in zandstorm in Ethiopië
Image: ©EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie

Results — Evaluation Dutch policy for humanitarian assistance

IOB has evaluated to what extent Dutch policy succeeded in achieving its humanitarian goals in the six-year period 2015–2021. We looked at two means for achieving better outcomes for people in need: funding and diplomacy. We also assessed Dutch performance on three newer policy demands that are growing in importance: locally led humanitarian action, innovation and strengthening links between humanitarian aid and long-term development.

Compass to indicate the introduction or background of the evaluation


Dutch humanitarian policy is founded on the humanitarian imperative and follows a needs-based approach. This means that nothing should override the principle of taking action to prevent or alleviate humanitarian suffering arising from disaster or conflict. It also means that priorities are determined by the humanitarian needs of people affected by crisis.

The figure below provides a schematic overview of Dutch humanitarian policy. It presents a picture of how the policy tools (money and diplomacy) aim to contribute to the desired impact of saving lives, restoring dignity and enhancing the resilience of people affected by crisis. It illustrates that the Netherlands uses funding mechanisms, humanitarian partners and coalitions to support a coordinated humanitarian response that delivers timely, relevant and principled aid to people in need. The humanitarian principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality are guiding throughout the process.

Schematic overview Dutch humanitarian policy 2015-2021
Image: ©IOB
Figure 1. Schematic overview of Dutch humanitarian policy

Main research question

To what extent does Dutch humanitarian policy contribute to achieving humanitarian goals, and how does it do so?

Collage beeld uit het veld: medisch team, voedselhulp, hulpgoederen Oekraine
Image: ©ICRC-T.Stoddart/FAO-M.Tewelde/UNHCR
Icoon van een vergrootglas voor conclusies en bevindingen

Main findings

The most important findings – described in full in the evaluation report – are briefly listed below: 

  1. Dutch humanitarian policy has been generally effective in facilitating a timely needs-based humanitarian response guided by humanitarian principles of neutrality, independence and impartiality.

  2. Current ways of working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) generally enable Dutch humanitarian assistance to reach those who need it the most.

  3. The MFA has developed funding relationships and partnerships that generally enable the effective delivery of timely and principled humanitarian aid.

  4. The partners supported by the Netherlands have not met the humanitarian assistance policy demands to localise, improve links with longer-term development and to innovate.

  5. The partners supported by the Netherlands (UN, Red Cross, Dutch Relief Alliance alike) are struggling to share the risks associated with delivering humanitarian aid, and this is resulting in limited opportunities to support local actors in accordance with their inherent strengths (local knowledge, operational access to communities). IOB found that Dutch partnerships practices do not provide enough incentives for addressing this shortcoming. There has been too little support amongst humanitarian donors to achieve positive change.

  6. Localisation also requires changes within the MFA itself relating to risk management and developing a more integrated and shared strategy on capacity strengthening.

  7. IOB’s assessment of the effectiveness of Dutch humanitarian diplomacy is mixed. The Netherlands was found to be effective in influencing humanitarian partners and stakeholders whenever there was a profound narrative and enough capacity to work strategically towards deliberate change. Dutch diplomatic efforts concerning Mental Health and Psychosocial support in humanitarian crises are considered to be a positive example. IOB found the role played by the Netherlands was proactive, constructive and at times leading: influencing a shared agenda for change, convening meetings, setting agendas and advancing global policy development. IOB’s assessment is less positive about the extent to which the MFA has been effective in influencing partners in relation to localisation, innovation and the nexus through humanitarian diplomacy.

Collage beeld uit het veld, Dutch Relief Alliance, Voedselhulp, hulpprogramma mens en dier
Image: ©Cordaid-M.Franci/UN-A.Farran/FAO-M.Tewelde
Icoon van een netwerk met verbindingen voor de aanbevelingen


Below follows a selection of the recommendations, based on strategic relevance. A full overview of all recommendations is discussed in the evaluation report.

Recommendation 1: On unearmarked funding
Based on the largely positive findings of the evaluation, IOB recommends that the Netherlands continues providing mostly multi-year flexible unearmarked funding to the same categories of recipients.

Recommendation 2: On localisation, innovation and the nexus
Unearmarked funding requires continuously taking care to monitor, evaluate and learn so as to improve the support given to the people who need it.

Recommendation 3: On humanitarian diplomacy
Using diplomacy to promote humanitarian objectives can help achieve more results by prioritising, building a narrative, strengthening guidance to embassies and exchange of experience and information, and strategically addressing human resources.

Recommendation 4: On becoming the humanitarian donor that people need
Humanitarian funding is expected to be increasingly insufficient to address the ever-growing humanitarian needs induced by climate change, continued conflict and instability. IOB recommends starting to work on future scenarios in order to position the Netherlands in debates on the urgent and forward-looking question of whether current ways of giving humanitarian aid will remain effective and appropriate in a vastly changing world.