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Money to burn? The cost of late response to humanitarian crises

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“Mounting evidence suggests that we could save billions of dollars by responding earlier.”

This is an observation put forward by Jan Egeland and Courtenay Cabot in an article co-authored and published on

Humanitarian crises cause the price of food and other goods to escalate and so when aid is provided at the peak of a crisis costs more to deliver what’s needed. The authors reference a recent study on this year’s drought in Ethiopia, which affected more than 18 million people. The study estimates that “late response cost donors an additional $127 million for food aid alone.”

The article describes the situation in northeast Nigeria, where aid organisations are currently responding to the Lake Chad crisis. Here, continuing conflict has forced more than 2.6 million people to flee their homes. Drought in the region has coincided  with this displacement to create a severe humanitarian crisis. In the seven years since the conflict began, “basic needs in some areas have moved from critical to catastrophic.”

Egeland and Cabot write: “Our collective inaction is crippling our ability to cope with unprecedented need. And yet the evidence is clear that our dollars could help many more people, and actually avert suffering, if we invested more in prevention and anticipatory action.”

They go on to explain the cost of this late action and the benefits of acting earlier: “When response comes late, farmers are forced to consume their food stores and sell off the last of their animals and assets. With an earlier response, farmers can save some seeds for planting, and keep their best animals to bear offspring and provide the family with milk and meat, critical for maintaining nutrition.”

Read the full article originally published on

Jan Egeland is Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council, and Courtenay Cabot Venton (@cabotventon) is an international development economist.

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