Refugees and Humanitarian Aid

Some scholars like James Fearon have wondered why humanitarian aid is on the rise, even if the total amount of victims from natural catastrophes, famines and civil wars does not show a clear trend over time.

What I think is missing is the globalization of humanitarian crises. People are no longer ‘internally displaced people’, but flee their countries, not only to neighboring regions, but, eventually, to OECD safe havens. And for good reason. In this sense, I think OECD countries’ drive to humanitarian aid is not (always) altruistic, but a response to increasing flows of refugees.

Here are some numbers on refugees and humanitarian aid from the OECD in the last decade or so.


We see that that there are cycles or jumps in both the amount of humanitarian aid given and the number of refugees seeking asylum in OECD countries. Though this is very little data to play with it is relatively clear that jumps in refugee numbers precede jumps in humanitarian aid. I ran a little, not too serious, regression logging both numbers (to dampen the effect of very large swings) and lagging the number of refugees. In other words, how much does the number of refugees in the previous year change the humanitarian aid in this year?

While the results are far from perfect, they do show that ‘causality’ runs this way: governments are responsive to refugee crisis by pumping money into the regions where they come from. The question is, of course, whether this money is sufficient and effective, since it mainly comes in the form of crisis mitigation rather than crisis prevention.



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