The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs released its annual funding appeal for 2017. This is a document created in partnership with humanitarian relief organizations that estimates the funding they will need to provide basic food, shelter, medicine and other humanitarian relief supplies and services to people affected by manmade or natural disaster in the coming year.

Each year for the last five years that figure has been the largest-ever, with sharp spikes in recent years following catastrophes in Syria, Iraq and South Sudan. And now, once again, the UN is asking donors to pay more than they have ever done before. In 2017 the OCHA is asking donors to contribute $22.2 billion.

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Typically, donors only contribute about half of what is requested, though some individual appeals that are more politically relevant to key donors tend to be better funded, while more off-the-radar crises go underfunded.  In all, these funds would support emergency relief for 93 million people around the world.

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Will the USA Step Up?

The USA is typically the largest donor to these appeals, by far. In 2016, the USA has so far contributed $6.1 billion to humanitarian relief around the world. (The next most generous country is Germany, which contributed $2.6 billion.)

America has typically provided robust support to humanitarian appeals because it is the world’s wealthiest country with generous spirit. But it also does so because the USA has an outsized interest in promoting stability around the world. The kind of festering conflicts that lead to humanitarian crises can affect American security. When Syrian refugees in Jordan do not have food or shelter, that may sow instability in Jordan, a key American ally at peace with another key American ally in the region, Israel. It is those knock on effects that the USA seeks to head off when they make contributions to humanitarian causes around the world.

One question going forward is the extent to which the Trump administration will continue or break from that tradition. Typically, robust support for humanitarian relief has been bi-partisan, but there is nothing really typical about what is happening in the USA right now. In the meantime,  the health and welfare of millions of the most vulnerable people in the world could hang in the balance.

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