World Disasters Report 2015

Focus on local actors; the key to humanitarian effectiveness
Download the report

Local actors are often the most effective in conducting humanitarian operations. However, despite their critical role, they struggle to attract the funding and support they need.

The 2015 World Disasters Report – launched today by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) – examines the complexities and challenges local actors face in scaling-up and sustaining their humanitarian response.

Although widely recognized, the effectiveness of local or national humanitarian organizations is not reflected in humanitarian financing or coordination structures. The Report found, for example, that just 1.6 per cent of funding for humanitarian assistance is channeled directly to national and local NGOs.

It presents the case for a shift towards the “localization” of aid and a more equal partnerships between international and local actors.

“Local actors are always the first to respond. In 2015, we saw local people and organizations at the centre of operations rescuing thousands trapped in the rubble after the earthquake in Nepal, setting up evacuation centres in the wake of Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu, and on the frontline of the protracted conflict in Syria,” said Elhadj As Sy, the Secretary General of the IFRC.

“But their effectiveness goes beyond their proximity. Local groups, including National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, are effective because of the perspective they bring, their understanding of language and cultural norms, and because they are permanently present in communities and able to accompany them to address risks before disaster strikes.”

Facts and figures

There were 317 natural disasters reported worldwide in 2014, affecting 94 countries.

People killed by technological disasters
Deaths caused by disasters in 2014
People affected by floods, droughts and storms in China
Number of people affected by disasters

Top five

Most common disasters globally 2005-2014











Disasters by continent (2005-2014)

48% of all disasters occurred in Asia in 2014. Over 85% of those killed and 86% those affected globally were also in Asia.

The higher attribution of deaths in Asia comes in a year, which also saw a lower mortality rate in the Americas where 8% were killed compared to the 25% average.

People killed by Ebola virus disease in West Africa in 2014

The impact of Ebola

The number of people killed by Ebola virus disease in West Africa eclipsed the total number of people that died due to disasters.

Chapter summaries

This year, the World Disasters Report tackles head on the complex and sometimes challenging relationship between local and international actors responding to crises.

The report finds that local actors determine the effectiveness of any operation as much as, if not more than, their supporting international partners. The international community still has a very important role to play, and responsibility for responding to large-scale crises cannot be transferred entirely to the communities, organizations and governments acting locally. However, a better balance must be struck.

Increasingly, those termed ‘local actors’ –individuals, volunteers, non-government organizations, businesses, religious groups, and governments, to name a few—are on the frontline of crises response and leading disaster risk reduction initiatives. This year’s World Disasters Report explores the reasons behind the surge of interest in the role of local actors, as well as some of the factors that explain why this has yet to move them closer to the driver’s seat in major humanitarian operations. It also discusses some of the barriers and concerns that have arisen with increasing the global reliance on the efforts of local actors, particularly in conflict settings. Finally, it highlights some of the efforts that are under way to improve cooperation between ‘traditional’ humanitarians and local actors.

The international humanitarian community agrees that building and strengthening the capacity of national and local actors is critical to improving disaster risk management. Each year, millions of dollars are invested by international donor agencies and non-government organizations (NGOs) in initiatives to build capacity but surprisingly little is known about the effectiveness or the long-term impact of this investment.

Chapter 2 presents preliminary findings from IFRC’s global review of capacity development initiatives and the impact on disaster risk management for local actors. The review is a contribution toward growing an evidence base of successful design and implementation, and challenges and solutions for capacity development initiatives for disaster risk management to share with the humanitarian community.

In an everyday setting, international visitors, organizations, or donors must respect the laws of the state they are entering. In a disaster or crises setting though, where a state is overwhelmed and requires immediate assistance in the form of finance, resources and expertise, everyday laws governing how foreign entities can operate can be inadequate or hinder swift response.

To deal with these exceptional circumstances, there is a growing body of disaster risk law and governance frameworks, which seek to guide community, national and international actors to reduce and manage disaster and climate-related risks. 

Chapter 3 looks at the current mechanisms for law and governance, including legislation, policies, mandatory standards and administrative procedures and how well they facilitate adequate recognition of local actors and a shift toward more equal partnerships between international and local actors.

The nature of humanitarian assistance has changed dramatically since the cold war. It has gone through exponential growth, becoming an industry valued at nearly US$20 billion. This growth of investment in crises response and development has facilitated increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for crises prevention and mitigation, and rapid response.

Nevertheless, the humanitarian community frequently comes under intense scrutiny and criticism of spending and the distribution of funds. Chapter 4 looks at the current mechanisms for funding humanitarian response and disaster risk management initiatives, pulling apart the disparity between funds donated to international actors and funds that directly reach disaster affected states and local actors on the ground.

The increasingly complex nature of armed conflict has demanded international aid agencies rethink how they provide humanitarian assistance to affected communities. Aid worker casualties have tripled since 2002, reaching over 100 deaths a year. The worst year on record was 2013 with 474 aid workers injured or killed by major attacks. In 2014, there were fewer incidents overall, 190 incidents involving 328 victims, but this reflects a reduced or reconfigured operational presence for international agencies in some settings including, South Sudan and Syria, rather than more secure settings. (AWSD, 2015)

For more than a decade, remote partnership has become one of the principle strategies of international agencies who feel no longer able to operate effectively within the conflict context, transferring risk and responsibility to local staff and local NGO partners. Chapter 5 explores the history and current practice of remote management, with a focus on the role and experience of local partner NGOs. It reviews the key issues of locally negotiated access, humanitarian principle

The current crisis in Yemen is a catastrophic example of the impact on affected communities when humanitarian actors are prevented from delivering assistance and protection, by the warring parties. People are struggling to get basic services across the country amid severe shortages of food, electricity and fuel. With the exception of the International Committee of the Red Cross, international aid agencies are being constantly denied access, and the humanitarian response is being largely negotiated by local responders.

As discussed in Chapter 5, international relief within insecure settings is increasingly difficult. Despite the presence of guiding principles and good practice for engagement between local and international actors in armed conflict, the changing nature and complexity of conflicts calls for a different, context specific approaches.

Chapter 6 looks at the difference contemporary conflict situations make to humanitarian work in terms of the range and scale of humanitarian needs, challenges to access and delivery of protection and assistance, and the diverse set of local and international aid agencies.

Technology is transforming the ability of people and communities to plan for emergencies and to organize their own responses. Although this is true of all technologies, the most significant technological shift has been the rise of digital communications. Mobile phones in particular have seen extraordinary growth. The stats are astonishing:

An additional 130 million people in low and middle-income countries will become mobile service users over the next 3 years

In Africa and South Asia alone, the number of people who own a mobile phone grows by 20% every year

More people in low and middle income countries now have access to mobile phones than basic sanitation or reliable electricity

This rapid uptake of technology by local actors and vulnerable communities sees a shift in the reliance on humanitarian actors. The truest innovation in communications technology is coming from disaster and crises affected communities, who are using communications technology to meet daily needs, join global networks, transfer money and transform their daily lives. And in doing so, they are creating entirely new models of disaster response and bringing in major new actors, particularly the private sector and diaspora networks.

Chapter 7 explores these emerging trends in technology and how local actors and communities are adapting technology to become the most important agents in their own resilience. This chapter also aims to bring some nuance to current discussions on the role of technology in disaster risk reduction and crises management, which tend to polarize between those who see technology as a transformative force for good and those who see it as a dangerous red herring.

You are a local actor!

Tell us something about your experience of local humanitarian action.

An effective humanitarian response relies on the hard work of volunteers, staff and people close to the crisis. Tell us more about your experiences of local humanitarian action on our blog.

Case studies

About the World Disasters Report

The World Disasters Report is produced each year by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Also available in: French, Spanish, Arabic

[an error occurred while processing the directive]
International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies