Humanitarian and development aid: What is the difference?

Humanitarian and development aid are two primary forms of support provided to communities in need. While they may seem similar, they have distinct goals and approaches to addressing humanitarian crises and promoting sustainable development. In this article, we will explore the differences between these two forms of aid and how they work together to positively impact communities in need.

IDP Camp Haiti

Humanitarian aid – short term relief:

Humanitarian aid is primarily designed to save lives and alleviate suffering. It’s designed as a response to a humanitarian crisis. For example, after a natural disaster strikes, or where there is armed conflict:

  • Short-term
  • Delivered in disaster zones
  • Responds to an incident or event
  • Focused on saving lives and core relief

What are Core Relief items? 

Short-term humanitarian aid covers basic needs. This includes delivering food, water and providing health services. It also includes providing things such as temporary shelter, soap, blankets, cooking equipment and lamps, like Sunbell. These non-food items are referred to as core relief items.

Read more about the impact Sunbell has had a core relief item

Large, international organizations like the UNHCR, International Red Cross and World Food Programme work globally to provide emergency assistance and distribute core relief items when disaster strikes.

Development aid – long term assistance:

Development aid focuses on structural issues that hinder economic, institutional, and social development. It assists in building resilient communities and sustainable livelihoods. 

  • Long-term
  • Delivered in developing countries
  • Responds to systematic problems
  • Focused on economic, social and political development

Types of developmental aid

Generally, development aid includes financial help. It often exists alongside humanitarian aid during and post-crisis. For example, if an earthquake strikes a country. But, it also exists in developing countries that do not have humanitarian crises. Development aid may include:

  • Tied Aid (where a percentage is formally tied and spent in the country it originates)
  • Untied Aid (can be spent freely by recipient).
  • Project Aid  (typically involves providing funds for a specific project), 
  • Resource Aid (helps supply resources in areas of critical shortages.) 
  • Technical aid (provide technical assistance and training to communities)
  • Voluntary aid: (incorporates volunteers who donate their labor as a form of aid.)

Continued support equals continued impact

Humanitarian and development aid is critical in supporting communities in need and promoting sustainable development. Understanding the differences between these two forms of aid and how they work together, is crucial for the effective planning and implementation of aid programs. Whether providing immediate relief in response to emergency situations or addressing systemic issues to promote long-term growth, humanitarian and development aid strive to positively impact communities worldwide. As the world faces humanitarian crises and ongoing development challenges, it is vital that we continue supporting and investing in these critical aid forms.



  1. From Humanitarian to Development Aid
  2. Non Food items (NFIs) – UNHCR Syria.
  3. What is Development Aid – Foreign Aid & Development | Anera