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The Most Needed Types of Humanitarian Aid

In 2020, 168 million people needed humanitarian aid. That is the most people that have ever required humanitarian assistance in history. This number continues to grow yearly due to failing economies, conflict, and extreme weather changes. In 2021, 235 million people needed humanitarian relief, and in 2022, 264 million people were in need, according to World Vision.

There are many kinds of humanitarian aid; it is excellent to know this diversity to assess which type of aid is best to support in a specific crisis.


One of the most critical kinds of humanitarian aid is food. Regardless of what kind of humanitarian crisis people are facing, people’s access to food will likely be limited or

non-existent. Various humanitarian charities and groups distribute food to ensure people do not starve or become malnourished.

Food is essential for daily life and survival, which is why it is one of the most delivered humanitarian aid in the world. If food were not prioritized in crises, then the level of suffering would only increase.

Some humanitarian organizations specializing in food distribution are the World Food Programme, Life for Relief and Development, and Oxfam.

Photo of women unloading food items from a truck.
Photo of women unloading food items from a truck.

Non-Food Items

Non-food items are another essential kind of aid that is often desperately needed by those that have experienced a humanitarian crisis. Types of items that could be included in this category are things like clothes, hygiene kits, bedding, and cooking equipment.

To know what is needed by the people in an area in crisis, aid agencies will complete a needs assessment to understand the best type of humanitarian aid to be sent. This can vary quite dramatically from each situation.

Like food aid, non-food aid is commonly needed in almost all humanitarian crises. When a disaster, conflict, or another kind of catastrophe strikes, people often lose their possessions and homes, leaving them without the means to cook, clean, or execute basic daily tasks.

Humanitarian agencies focusing on distributing non-food items are Save the Children, World Vision, Life for Relief and Development, and UNHCR.

Photo of blankets in a basket.
Photo of blankets in a basket.


Shelter is a critical form of humanitarian aid, especially for people whom natural disasters and conflict have struck. Agencies will distribute various kinds of shelter

ranging from temporary to more permanent solutions. This can look like sheltering sleeping bags, tents, or materials to patch homes/rebuild them.

Another element of shelter aid is the sectioning off and set-up of an organized area where people can set up distributed shelters. Often the places that people once called home are reduced to rubble, and the entire space is no longer livable, requiring a new area to be allocated for shelter.

A shelter is also a necessary form of humanitarian aid, as people cannot live without it. It protects from the elements and is a form of privacy for daily life. It is also an integral part of a community and building relationships between other members of society. Some organizations that provide and set up shelters for individuals and families are ShelterBox, Life for Relief and Development, and UNCHR.

Photo of a series of semi-permanent housing structures.
Photo of a series of semi-permanent housing structures.

Medical Aid and Healthcare

Medical aid and healthcare are humanitarian aid necessary to many people’s survival in humanitarian crises. In various emergencies, healthcare and medical supplies are often compromised. This is due to medical infrastructure and supply being damaged and medical practitioners such as doctors and nurses being displaced.

Unfortunately, a humanitarian crisis is often when a population requires medical aid the most. Conflict, natural disasters, and other humanitarian crises cause injury and illness. Without proper medical care, people face a lifetime of disability or premature death. The number of people in need can be extremely high depending on the crisis. That is why enough medical aid and care must be sent to the people in need as quickly as possible. Medical and healthcare aid can look like temporary medical clinics being set up, medical supplies like antibiotics and first aid kits being sent in and supporting local medical practitioners with training and support.

Humanitarian organizations that provide medical and healthcare to people that have survived a disaster or conflict are the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, and Life for Relief and Development.

Water and Sanitation

Water and Sanitation are fundamental to survival and the longevity of a community’s health. Without water and sanitation, disease outbreaks can start and spread quickly. People need water; without a clean water source, people will find water in rivers, ponds, and puddles or reuse water that has already been used. This can lead to diseases like cholera becoming widespread, which can create an additional humanitarian crisis.

Humanitarian organizations provide services and access to water to ensure that people are not resorting to unclean water sources and using unsanitary methods of disposing of human waste. This can include distributing clean water, installing wells, latrines, and other kinds of water dispensaries, garbage, and waste pickup, setup of outhouses, and providing personal hygiene items like soap and shampoo, as well as cleaning supplies like disinfectant and wipes.

Organizations that give people water and sanitation solutions include Charity Water, WaterAid, Oxfam, CARE International, and Life for Relief and Development.

Photo of hands being washed under clean water.
Photo of hands being washed under clean water.

Many forms of aid that benefit people in need are not mentioned on this list. The ones listed here are the most critical to human survival and will most often be the first kinds of aid deployed to ease suffering and save lives in an emergency.



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