Last Updated 18th September 2023. The next update to the Index is expected in August 2024.
The Underfunded Crisis Index is a way to measure and compare the underfunding of humanitarian crises. It can help us to understand which crises are underfunded compared to how much funding they require to meet needs, and therefore help to advocate for more funding to the often neglected crises.
This index exclusively focuses on funding as we believe there is value in just looking at the numbers alone. However, there are other frameworks that include more factors and give a more comprehensive look at “forgotten crises”, which are also useful.
For more details on methodology see the Sources and Methodology section below. The key details you should know are: we are looking at crises that (a) have an active appeal this year (so that the index is relevant to today), and (b) have had at least three consecutive years of interagency appeals (so that we have a longer term view to account for any short term fluctutations).
Therefore, this will not tell you about funding today, or even in the last year or two. This will tell you about contexts that have been consistently underfunded over time.
Underfunding is then defined by how much funding has been received vs. how much funding was needed in the last five years.
Which humanitarian crises are underfunded?
The 2023 index sees the addition of three contexts, and two contexts drop off the list.
Making their first appearances are: Colombia (as they’ve had Humanitarian Response Plans since 2020), the Regional Migrant Response Plans of the Horn of Africa and Yemen (similarly continued since 2020), and Lebanon (which had a Flash Appeal in 2020, and ‘Emergency Response Plans’ in 2021 and 2022).
Iraq dropped off list due its transition away from humanitarian to development focused programming, but if it were on the list would be bottom of the list as the least underfunded crisis (88% funded in last five years). The regional refugee response plan for Burundi has also dropped off the list as there has not been a plan since 2021 – note that this plan was the 2nd most underfunded last year.
The number of contexts that are severely or chronically underfunded rises again: this is the second year in a row this has happened. The number of contexts in either of these categories (i.e. under 50% funded) has risen from 8 in 2021, to 10 in 2022, and now to 13 contexts in 2023. This is sadly a consequence of a humanitarian funding system that is struggling with rising humanitarian needs and funding requirements globally.
Geography appears to be a key determinant of underfunding: similar to the 2022 index, there appears to be a geographic division across regions. All of the contexts eligible for the index in Central and South America (four in total) are in the top six underfunded crises. Contrast this to the Middle East and West Asia where seven out of eight contexts are at least 50% funded.
The Regional Syria Plan and Myanmar suffered the largest climbs up the index: let’s take these in turn. The huge rise from 28th to 9th on the index for the regional Syria plan appears to be a consequence of updated data. Both years we have used the Refugee Funding Tracker, but a huge revision of figures appears to now place the plan where it should have been roughly last year. So this rise is ‘technical’ in a sense.
This is in contrast to Myanmar which had previously consistently received over 70% of its requirement since 2017, that is until 2022 when the interagency plan received only 43%. This is despite funding increasing from $250m to $352m in one year. The problem as that the funding needed for Myanmar exploded in 2022, taking it from $386m in 2021 to $826m in 2022. Thus, the explosion in what is needed is driving the underfunding in Myanmar, despite the increase in funding.
Ukraine, the Central African Republic, and the oPt are the biggest gainers. Unsurprisingly, Ukraine received a lot of humanitarian funding in 2022 (87% of required funding), leading it to drop to the bottom of the underfunding league table.
The Central African Republic continues its journey away from underfunding (ranked 11th in 2021, 21st in 2022, and now 27th in 2023). This is a consequence of improving funding since 2016 (when the HRP received $196m – 37% of what was required), all the way to 2022 ($440m received – 95% of what was required).
Lastly, the oPt has consistently received 70%+ of what is needed since 2019, whilst prior to this the HRPs were only receiving around or just under 50% of what was needed. As the prior years fade out of the index and the more recent better performing years come into the calculations, the position of the oPt continues to improve on the index.
The majority of contexts moved shifted only slightly: of the 28 contexts on both the 2022 and 2023 index, 23 contexts moved by less than five places. This is to be somewhat expected on an index where we use a ‘rolling’ approach where only the last five years of data are used, and so it tends to smooth out any sudden movements in funding.
However, it still speaks to the ‘stickiness’ of underfunding. Of the 25 contexts on all three versions of the indexe (2021-2023), 17 contexts have moved less than five places since the 2021 index – that’s 68% of contexts which haven’t really moved. Furthermore, 6 contexts have stayed in the top 10 through all three versions of the index. This speaks to the fact that the humanitarian funding system is not dynamic enough, and doesn’t adequately respond to underfunding.
30 contexts appear in the 2022 Underfunded Crisis Index. No contexts drop out of the index, and three contexts come into the index this year. These include two responses related to Venezuela – the country response enters at 4th most underfunded, and the regional response at 10th most underfunded.
Mozambique also joins the index as ‘moderately’ underfunded, after three years of different types of appeals (albeit with different focus – natural disaster and conflict).
The poor performance of regional refugee plans in Africa: 3 out of the top 5 most underfunded crises are regional refugee response plans. It is noticeable that these three regional plans, DR Congo, Burundi, and South Sudan, are are all in Africa (compared to regional plans in Venezuela and Syria). These three responses were also in the top 5 last year, and DR Congo and Burundi also receive a small amount of funding generally.
Good performance of Middle Eastern contexts vs. poor performance of African contexts: 7 out of the top 10 contexts that are underfunded are in Africa. Compare this to Afghanistan, Iraq, and the regional Syria response which have been minimally underfunded.
The distribution of underfunding is huge: there is huge inequity in the humanitarian world. Whilst assistance should be delivered according to needs, it seems that some needs count less when we pick up the bill. Less than $5 in every $20 needed has been delivered to the Regional DR Congo response plans. Yet nearly $19 in every $20 needed has been delivered to Afghanistan response plans.
Sources and Methodology
In 2021, we published a one-off story that examined which humanitarian crises are the most underfunded. We’ve decided to update this information on a yearly basis here.
Our classification of underfunding is as follows:
- Minimal underfunding: 80% or higher
- Moderate underfunding: between 50% and 80%
- Severe underfunding: between 40% and 50%
- Chronic underfunding: 40% or under
Data for the index comes from two sources. In the first instance, data comes from OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service (FTS) which is the most comprehensive source of humanitarian funding data in regards to specific response plans. This is then complemented by using UNHCR’s Refugee Funding Tracker (RFT) which has more data on regional refugee response plans.
Step 1: filter for contexts that are eligible for the index. Only contexts with an active appeal this year, according to FTS and/or the RFT, are eligible*. Contexts that have not had an active response plan in the three preceding years are removed from the list.
Step 2: add up funding received and funding required over the past five years. Quite a simple step really. This is what we mean by ‘cumulative’ in the table. It’s just the sum of the past five years. Therefore, the ‘cumulative funding requirement met’ is: all funding received in the last five years divided by all funding required in the last five years. We’ve chosen this method as it measures all funding and all needs.
We also looked at whether to base the index on underfunding by appeal, in which case doing an average across the years made sense (e.g. if a context got 88%, 81%, 78%, 76%, and 50% of what they asked for in each yearly appeal in the last five years, that would equal an average of 75%).
However, in reality there’s not much difference between the two as noted in the original story, and underfunding by appeal would make all appeals equal in a sense. For example, if a context got 90% of $100m and then 10% of $1bn, the average of the percentages would be 50%, but if we look at the total (i.e. all funding and all needs), then it would be only 17% funded.
Therefore, given that there’s not much difference between the two, and ‘underfunding by appeal’ could be prone to this type of error, we’ve chosen to look at all funding received and required instead.
Step 3: sort by rank and voilà, we have an index!
* this is true in all cases except Libya, where whilst there is no Humanitarian Response Plan in 2023, there is a Humanitarian Needs Overview, and thus merits inclusion as the crisis continues.
Other useful frameworks
The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has a special Underfunded Emergency Allocation that takes into account funding levels, as well as needs, risks, vulnerability, and the recommendations and consultations of colleagues. ECHO have also created a framework called the Forgotten Crises Assessment, or FCA. Similar to CERF, the framework is multi-dimensional, and takes into account media coverage, vulnerability, and a qualitative assessment.