Facts and figures: Humanitarian action


  • 200.5 million people were affected by natural disasters or displaced by conflict and violence in 2014 [1].
  • Conflict affects women, girls, boys and men differently. The impact of conflict is often measured by casualties, the majority of whom are men and boys. But the consequences for women and girls, such as gender-based violence, may not be immediately visible. Women and girls face heightened risks due to displacement and the breakdown of normal protection structures and support. They also face increased care-related tasks such as providing food and water, and caring for the sick [2].
  • An estimated one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings have experienced sexual violence—likely an underestimation given the barriers associated with disclosure [3].
Closing the gap in humanitarian action

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  • During 2014, approximately 59.5 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence or human rights violations – the highest figure on record [4].
  • As of March 2015, more than half of all Syrians have been forced to flee their homes, with 7.6 million people displaced within the country [5] and as of April 2016, more than 4.8 million people living as refugees in neighbouring countries [6].
  • Only 9 per cent of landholders in conflict and post-conflict countries are women, compared with 19 per cent globally [6]. As with all humanitarian emergencies, women and girls are among the most vulnerable. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian women, including refugees and those still in Syria, are pregnant and in need of maternal care [7].
  • In conflict situations, there is a significant increase in female-headed households during and after conflict, and these are often the most impoverished. An estimated 20-30 per cent of internally displaced households in Yemen are headed by women [8].
  • As women are more vulnerable to poverty in conflict and post-conflict contexts, they are forced to participate more actively in the labour market out of necessity. But in general, the jobs available to them are typically low-paid, low-skilled jobs in the form of self-employment in informal activities or unpaid family labour, which further increases the risk of women engaging in transactional sex [9].
  • Only 9 per cent of landholders in conflict and post-conflict countries are women, compared with 19 per cent globally[10].
  • 60 per cent of preventable maternal mortality deaths take place in settings of conflict, displacement and natural disasters [11].
  • Girls are almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of school in conflict-affected countries than their counterparts in conflict-free countries [12].


  • Since 1970, the number of people exposed to floods and tropical cyclones has doubled and women and children face an overwhelming burden during and after the crises [13].
  • Through changing temperatures, precipitation and sea level rises, among other factors, global climate change is already modifying hazard levels and exacerbating disaster risks. UNISDR assessed that from 2005 to 2015, 87 per cent of disasters have been climate related [14].
  • Women and girls are disproportionately exposed to risk, increased loss of livelihoods, security, and even lives, during and in the aftermath of disasters. In general, natural disasters kill more women than men and kill women at a younger age than men [15].
  • Data gaps continue to impede proper understanding of, and prevention and response to the impact of disasters on women and girls as opposed to men and boys. Nonetheless, research has found that:
    • Disasters such as droughts, floods and storms kill more women than men due to structural gender inequalities [16].
    • More than 70 per cent of people who died in the 2004 Asian tsunami were women [17].
    • Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans, USA in 2005, predominantly affected African American women—already the region’s poorest, most marginalized community [18].
    • An estimated 87 per cent of unmarried women and 100 per cent of married women lost their main source of income when Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008 [19].
  • After the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, UNFPA estimated that 2 million women and girls of reproductive age had been affected by the crisis, including approximately 126,000 pregnant women. With disruption to normal health services, the Population Fund estimated that 1,500 women per month would have difficulty accessing reproductive health services and consequently face life-threatening complications. [20].
  • A 2013 report by Plan International shows that gender discrimination is overlooked by governments and humanitarian actors, with dire implications for adolescent girls. Findings of the report reveal that girls are given less food when it is scarce; boys generally receive preferential treatment over girls in rescue efforts; and girls are more likely to be pulled out of school and less likely to return. It also found that disasters and emergencies increase the likelihood of girls being forced into child marriage, domestic work or sexual abuse [21].
  • During natural disasters the likelihood of rape, sexual exploitation and risky behaviour greatly increases the likelihood of unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections and complications regarding reproductive health [22].
  • Disaster damage and loss assessments are seldom disaggregated by sex and are usually recorded in terms of productive resources, which tend to be owned by men. This leads to a substantial undervaluation of the impact on women [23].

Investing in gender equality in humanitarian action

  • Just 0.4 per cent of all funding to fragile states went to women’s groups or governments’ ministries of women from 2012-2013 [24].
  • In 2014, humanitarian funding for UN-wide crisis response totaled USD 9.4 billion. But only 4 per cent of projects in inter-agency appeals were gender-specific, showing no increase from previous years [25].
  • Total international humanitarian assistance, from both public and private donors, rose for the second year running, reaching another record high. Up nearly a fifth (19 per cent) from the previous year, contributions totaled USD 24.5 billion [26].
  • A ‘gender marker’ was introduced five years ago to track the proportion of funding dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. However, despite improvements in reporting, nearly two-thirds of funding did not use the marker at all [27]. UN Women is actively supporting current efforts to update and improve the gender marker.
  • The use of sex- and age-disaggregated data (SADD) and gender analysis are some of the most effective ways to promote gender equality in humanitarian efforts. Yet, a report found that few leading humanitarian agencies in agriculture and food security, education, emergency shelter, health or water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) collected and analyzed context-specific SADD to inform humanitarian programming [28].
  • To promote gender equality, humanitarian organizations need to strive for gender balance at all organizational levels. However, recent research shows that men still constitute the large majority of humanitarian actors, particularly at the senior management level [29].


[1] OCHA (2015) World Humanitarian Data and Trends 2015, p. 2.

[2] Oxfam Humanitarian Policy Note, 2013, Gender Issues in Conflict And Humanitarian Action (p. 2).

[3] Vu, Alexander, Atif Adam, Andrea Wirtz, Kiemanh Pham, Leonard Rubenstein, Nancy Glass, Chris Beyrer, and Sonal Singh (2014) "The Prevalence of Sexual Violence among Female Refugees in Complex Humanitarian Emergencies: a Systematic Review and Meta-analysisPLoS Currents. Public Library of Science

[4] United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, “Global Trends Forced Displacement”, 2014 (p. 2).

[5] UNHCR (2016) Syria Regional Refugee Response, Inter-Agency Information Sharing Portal

[6] UNHCR (2016) Syria Regional Refugee Response, Inter-Agency Information Sharing Portal

[7]United Nations Population Fund, “Crisis in Syria Overview

[8] OCHA (2015) Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan, p. 8

[9] UN Women (2012) “Women working for recovery: The Impact of Female Employment on Family and Community Welfare after conflict”

[10] UN Security Council (2015). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security; and UN Security Council (2014). Report of the Secretary-General on women, peace and security, p. 22.

[11] World Health Organization (2015) “Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Emergencies Remains Fatal Omission

[12] UNESCO (2015) Education for All Global Monitoring Report, Policy Paper, p.3

[13] United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (2011), “Global Assessment Report,” p. 32

[14] UNISDR (2015) “Ten-year review finds 87% of disasters climate-related

[15] World Health Organization (2011) “Gender, Climate Change, and Health” (Geneva, 2011); Gender equality and the empowerment of women in natural disasters Report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.6/2014/13), p.3

[16] World Health Organization “Gender, Climate Change, and Health” (Geneva, 2011); Gender equality and the empowerment of women in natural disasters Report of the Secretary-General (E/CN.6/2014/13), p. 2

[17] UNFPA, WEDO, (2009) Climate Change Connections: Women at the Forefront, p. 2

[18] Ibid , p. 2

[19] Ibid, p. 2

[20] UN Women (2015) “New Gender Alert highlights the need to ensure leadership roles for women in post-earthquake Nepal” p. 2

[21] Plan International (2013) Girl Report: In Double Jeopardy: Adolescent Girls and Disasters p. 34, 17, 129

[22] United Nations Economic and Social Council (2014) Gender equality and the empowerment of women in natural disasters-Report of the Secretary-General, p. 9

[23] Badshaw and Fordham (2013) Women, Girls and Disasters: A Review for DFID, p.14

[24] Calculated based on figures cited in OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality (2015) "Financing UN Security Council Resolution 1325: Aid in support of gender equality and women’s rights in fragile contexts". p. 1.

[25] Global Humanitarian Overview (2015); Global Humanitarian Assistance, 2014, Briefing Paper: Funding Gender in Emergencies, p.10 and OCHA (2015) World Humanitarian Data And Trends, p.23

[26] Global Humanitarian Assistance (2015) Global Humanitarian Assistance Report, p.4

[27]Global Humanitarian Assistance (2014) Briefing Paper: Funding Gender in Emergencies, p. 3

[28] Dyan Mazurana, Prisca Benelli, Huma Gupta and Peter Walker (2011) “Sex and Age Matter: Improving Humanitarian Response in Emergencies.” Feinstein International Center, Tufts University, p. 10

[29] DARA/HRI (2011) The Humanitarian Response Index 2011: Addressing the Gender Challenge  p. 57

[Page last updated in May 2016.]