Humanitarian Disaster Response

Understanding Aid Rejection


  • Henry Rosario Network of Humanitarian Action (NOHA)



Aid rejection, disaster response, humanitarian aid


Communities the world over continue to be alarmingly vulnerable to natural hazards, leading to no shortage of devastating consequences. Whether or not climate change brings forth an increasingly ferocious variety of hazards, actors involved in disaster response will still face a multiplicity of challenges to delivering lifesaving aid. For instance, humanitarian organizations sometimes face the challenge of overcoming the reluctance of disaster affected states to accept their assistance. When disasters extensively overwhelm state capacity the refusal of external assistance can have serious ramifications for those affected. Despite the stakes, research surrounding aid rejection in these contexts is limited. This analysis sheds more light on why aid rejection occurs and highlights to humanitarian organizations and other researchers the fundamental considerations to develop an understanding on this subject.

A synthesis of existing research on disaster response reveals the very tangible political risk that disaster affected states face when engaging with international offers of assistance. It is in the effort to mitigate this political risk to their legitimacy that states may ultimately decide to reject aid. A few key state characteristics such as response capacity, level of external intervention and domestic politics may also amplify this risk, resulting in a higher likelihood that external aid is rejected. This analysis engages with these factors to determine their validity and relevancy to humanitarian practitioners seeking to develop the appropriate
organizational strategies.

In an effort to better understand aid rejection a disaster dataset was developed based on the concept that disasters with higher visibility on the international scene present a higher level of political risk for an affected state, and therefore have the highest likelihood of resulting in cases of aid rejection. However, in analysing disasters that met this criterion over a 10 year period the research found no instances where
external aid was universally and indiscriminately rejected. This is not to say that there were no cases where an affected state rejected assistance from a particular party but that even in these instances those states did accept aid from some other source.

The implication of these findings is that states affected by natural borne disasters are likely to accept external offers of assistance so long as those offers carry a manageable level of political risk. Humanitarian organizations should therefore consider how they can mitigate the political risk they might present to an affected state as part of their disaster response strategy.


Metrics Loading ...


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

  • Henry Rosario, Network of Humanitarian Action (NOHA)

    Network of Humanitarian Action (NOHA)


“5 natural disasters that beg for climate action.” Oxfam International, accessed February 2019,

“The humanitarian impacts of climate change.” New Humanitarian, March 11, 2018,

Allan, Craig and Thérèse O’Donnell. “An Offer You Cannot Refuse? Natural Disasters, the Politics of Aid Refusal and Potential Legal Implications.” Amsterdam Law Forum, Vol. 5, (2013): 37-63.

ALNAP. “The role of national governments in international humanitarian response to disasters.” 26th ALNAP Meeting in Kuala Lumpur, (2010).

Armstrong, Justin, Randolph Kent and Alice Obrecht. “The Future of Non-Governmental Organisations in the Humanitarian Sector.” Humanitarian Futures Programme, (2013).

Bandopadhyay, Saptarishi. “After the storm: Disaster relief as a threat to state sovereignty.” Edited by Sam Haselby, Aeon, February 5, 2019,

Bourse, Francois, Michael Maietta and Eilidh Kennedy with contributions from Leonie Le Borge, Jade Legrand, Marie Jeanne Berger, Sterling Carter and Samuel Carcanague. “The Future of Aid: INGOs in 2030.” Edited by Lesley Fraser, IARAN in conjunction with IRIS, Action Against Hunger, Center for Humanitarian Leadership and futuribles, (2018).

Brewster, Rachel. “Unpacking the State’s Reputation.” Harvard International Law Journal, Vol. 50, Nr. 2, (2009).

Carnegie, Allison and Lindsey Dolan. “The Effects of Aid on Recipients’ Reputations: Evidence from Natural Disaster Responses.” (2015),

Cole, Shawn, Andrew Healy, and Eric Werker. “Do Voters Demand Responsive Governments? Evidence from Indian Disaster Relief.” Journal of Development Economics 97, Nr. 2, (2012):167–181.

Eisensee, Thomas and David Strömberg. “News droughts, news floods, and US disaster relief.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics 122(2), (2007): 693-728.

European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Operations (ECHO). “Emergency Disaster Response Information System (EDRIS).” Accessed February 2019,

Fisher, David. “Domestic regulation of international humanitarian relief in disasters and armed conflict: a comparative analysis.” ICRC, (2007),

Fund for Peace. “Fragile States Index.” (2018),

Garrett, Thomas A. and Russel Sobel. “The Political Economy of FEMA Disaster Payments.” Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis Working Paper Series, (2003):496-509, DOI: 10.1093/ei/cbg023.

Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA). “Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2018.”Global Humanitarian Assistance – Development Initiatives, (2018).

Healy, Andrew and Neil Malhorta. “Myopic Voters and Natural Disaster Policy.” American Political Science Review 103, (2009): 387-406.

INFORM. “INFORM Global Risk Index: Results 2019.” (2018),

International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC). “UN General Assembly Resolutions mentioning the IDRL Guidelines.” Accessed January 2019,

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). “2018 Summary for Policymakers Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.” Edited by MassonDelmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield, World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, (2018).

Nelson, Travis. “Rejecting the gift horse: International politics of disaster aid refusal.” Conflict, Security & Development, Vol. 10:3, (2010): 379-402, DOI:10.1080/14678802.2010.484202.

Paik, Wooyeal. “Authoritarianism and humanitarian aid: Regime stability and external relief in China and Myanmar.” The Pacific Review, Vol. 24:4, (2010): 439-462.

Rodgers, Lucy. “Haiti quake: Why isn’t aid money going to Haitians?” BBC News, January 12, 2013,

Rose, David G. “1,600 dead, 70,000 homeless. Why wouldn’t tsunami hit Indonesia want aid?” South China Morning Post, October 7, 2018,

Rubin, Oliver. “Natural hazards and voting behavior.” Oxford Research Encyclopedia, Natural Hazard Science, (2019), DOI: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199389407.013.323.

Smith, Kerry. “Non-DAC Donors and Humanitarian Aid: Shifting structures and changing trends.” Global Humanitarian Assistance – Development Initiatives, (2011).

Tzvetkova, Sandra. “Not all deaths are equal: How many deaths make a natural disaster newsworthy.” Our World in Data, (2017),

UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). “Leave No One Behind: Disaster Resilience for Sustainable Development – Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2017.” (2017).

United Nations Humanitarian Response Depot. “Activity Report.” Accessed May 2019,

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). “Financial Tracking Service (FTS).” Accessed April 2019,

Université catholique de Louvain – CRED, D. Guha-Sapir. “EM-DAT Glossary.” Accessed February 2019,

“EM-DAT: The Emergency Events Database.” Accessed April 2019,

Walsh, Kenneth T. “The Undoing of George W. Bush: Hurricane Katrina badly damaged the former president’s reputation. And it still hasn’t recovered.” U.S News and World Report, August 28, 2015,

Walton, Oliver. “Humanitarian NGOs: Dealing with authoritarian regimes.” Bath Papers in International Development and Wellbeing, Working Paper No. 42, (2015).

A mosque sits surrounded by floodwaters







How to Cite

“Humanitarian Disaster Response: Understanding Aid Rejection” (2020) The Humanitarian Leader, p. Working Paper 006, May 2020. doi:10.21153/thl2020volno0art1021.