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Humanitarian Assistance

Iceland's humanitarian assistance is premised on safeguarding human lives, maintaining human dignity and reducing human suffering in crisis situations. In line with Good Humanitarian Donorship and commitments made at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul 2016, Iceland recognises and adheres to the provision of principled and coordinated humanitarian action. Iceland works in accordance with its strategy for humanitarian assistance.

The need for humanitarian assistance has never been greater. This ever-growing need is a result of conflict and instability, climate change and economic hardship across the world. Millions of people are internally displaced or have had to flee their country of origin, which invariably results in great human suffering and a heightened risk of sexual and gender-based violence.

The Government of Iceland endeavours to alleviate the suffering of the most vulnerable in partnership with specialised UN agencies and funds mandated with coordinating and carrying out humanitarian action globally (OCHA, CERF, UNHCR and WFP). Collaboration is also in place between Iceland and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) through the Icelandic Red Cross. For more information on Iceland´s key humanitarian partners, please see below.

Iceland’s humanitarian assistance is needs-based with emphasis on predictable and flexible funding through multi-year framework agreements with priority partners as outlined in line Iceland´s policy for international development cooperation for 2019-2023.

Iceland also channels humanitarian funding through Civil Society Organisations that are registered in Iceland. Grants are advertised at least once a year in line with specific guidelines issued by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. For more information, please see Civil Society and NGOs.

Humanitarian Assistance in 2020

Iceland made timely contributions to its key multilateral partners in humanitarian action, namely OCHA, CERF, UNHCR and WFP, in line with existing multi-year framework agreements. Moreover, all other contractual agreements, such as with UNRWA and ICRC, were fullfilled.

Contributions in response to the protracted crisis in Syria and the serious consequences in neighbouring countries were substantive in 2020. The allocation was part of Iceland’s three-year pledge for 2018-2020 announced at the Syria Brussels Conference in 2018. Support went to UN agencies and humanitarian funds; OCHA Country Based Pooled Funds, WFP and UNHCR. Three of Iceland’s key UN partners in development cooperation were also included in the Syria pledge. These are UNFPA, UNICEF and UN Women who carry out Syria-related humanitarian activities. 

Calls for humanitarian assistance for Yemen were responded to, with contributions to UNFPA and WFP, focusing on the protection of women, girls and newborns as well as food security. 

Iceland provided timely humanitarian assiststance following the Beirut harbour explosion in August with funding for WFP and the OCHA-led Lebanon Humanitarian Fund, with both being critical to the front-line response. 

The fires on the island of Lesbos were also responded to with a much-needed contribution in support of UNHCR‘s protection activities. 

Iceland participated in the Central Sahel pledging conference.  The humanitarian, development and security situation in the region, comprised of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger,  has deteriorated sharply in recent years. Iceland announced a two-year pledge channelling flexible and predictable funding to both UNHCR and WFP in the region with emphasis on the protection of displaced civilians and food security. 

The OCHA-led Afghanistan Humanitarian Fund, which is known for bringing the response closer to those in need,  received a contribution from Iceland at the 2020 Afghanistan Conference.

ICRC’s special appeal to combat sexual and gender-based violence in armed conflict was answered for the second time, and Iceland's contribution was directed towards South Sudan.

Iceland continued to strengthen the link between its humanitarian initiatives and development cooperation, i.e. the nexus, in Uganda through continued support to UNICEF. The focus is on the development of water and sanitation with the aim of addressing the needs of the host community and the refugee population.

Finally, Iceland provided financial support to tackle the negative consenquences of COVID-19 with humanitarian funding to WHO, UNHCR, UNFP and WFP in response to the UN‘s COVID-19 Humanitarian Response Plan.

Standby Partnership – experts on loan

Iceland has a Standby Partnership arrangement in place with a number of UN Agencies engaged in humanitarian action. Deployments range from three months to a maximum of one year. The number of deployments and types of assignments depend on the needs of the UN and Iceland‘s priorities. The selection of candidates is administered by the UN.



United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) plays a pivotal role in humanitarian action and emergency response worldwide and is one of Iceland‘s four priority multilateral humanitarian partners as outlined in Iceland‘s policy for international development cooperation for 2019-2023. OCHA‘s headquarters are split between New York and Geneva. There are five regional offices and thirty country offices.

Iceland contributes annual unearmarked funding to OCHA through a multi-year framework agreement. Multi-year agreements are the flagship of Iceland‘s humanitarian approach which centers on predictable and flexible resource allocation.

In addition, Iceland funds a number of OCHA Country Based Pooled Funds (CBPFs). The funds allow donors to pool their contributions into single, unearmarked funds to support local humanitarian efforts in crisis-affected countries in a timely, coordinated and principled manner. As such the funds, which are typically associated with the Grand Bargain, are a critical tool in bringing the decision-making closer to the beneficiaries, with the emphasis on the most vulnerable.

Monitoring and evaluation of projects funded through CBPFs is administerd by OCHA. This modus operandi has proven to be highly beneficial for a relatively small donor country like Iceland that has a limited physical presence in conflict-affected areas.

Iceland is a member of the OCHA Donor Support Group (ODSG). Iceland‘s membership is an important part of monitoring and assessing the work of OCHA and a way to measure the effectiveness of Iceland‘s ODA.

Iceland‘s partnership with OCHA extends beyond core funding and CBPFs. Namely, Iceland, in collaboration with the Icelandic Association for Search and Rescue (ICE-SAR) is part of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) mechanism, which OCHA houses. UNDAC maintains a roster of trained professionals deployed to assess the situation during the first phase of a sudden-onset emergency and to assist in the coordination of incoming international relief at the national level and/or at the site of the emergency.

ICE-SAR, and Iceland by extension, is also a member of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), a global network of more than 90 countries and organisations under the UN umbrella that specialises in urban search and rescue (USAR) and methodology for international coordination in eartquake response. OCHA serves as the Secretariat.


The United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is one of Iceland‘s four key multilateral partners in humanitarian action as outlined in Iceland‘s policy for international development cooperation for 2019-2023. The policy provides for increased and predictable contributions to humanitarian action. A multi-year framework agreement with CERF, depicting the annual provision of predictable funding, plays a crucial role in achieving said goal.

CERF is hosted under the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  The fund specialises in the provision of timely and reliable humanitarian and emergency assistance in conflict settings and following natural disasters. Emphasis is on early and effective measures to reduce suffering and save lives. The fund also plays a pivotal role in allocating resources to underfunded and forgotten crises.


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) safeguards the rights and well-being of refugees and returnees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced and stateless people. One of the key functions of the agency is to provide protection, shelter as well as livelihoods and basic services to its beneficiaries. The UNHCR is headquartered in Geneva and operates in about 135 countries.

UNHCR is one of Iceland's four key multilateral partners in humanitarian action as per Iceland's policy for international development cooperation for 2019-2023. Iceland provides annual core funding to UNHCR in accordance with a multi-year framework agreement. Iceland's regular and unearmarked contributions provide the agency with the necessary flexibility and predicatability to prioritise and assist the most vulnerable at any given time.

Iceland is a member of the Executive Committee of the UNHCR (ExCom). The committee meets annually to review and approve the agency‘s programmes and budget and advise on international protection. Iceland‘s membership is an important measure to monitor and assess the work of the agency and to monitor the effectiveness of Iceland‘s ODA.

Iceland and UNHCR also work closely together on resettlement of refugees to Iceland. The resettlement programme is managed by the Ministry of Social Affairs.


The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is one of Iceland‘s four key multilateral partners in humanitarian action. With WFP being dual mandated, the agency engages in both humanitarian and development assistance. WFP is headquartered in Rome and has regional and country offices in 83 countries.

Under the current multi-year framework agreement, Iceland provides predictable and core funding annually to WFP. Iceland also regularly responds to flash appeals with additional humanitarian funding. This is in line with Iceland's policy for international development cooperation for 2019-2023 which emphasises the provision of foreseeable and increasing contributions to humanitarian action.


The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is responsible for providing essential services to Palestine refugees in the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as per a UN General Assembly resolution.

UNRWA provides a wide range of services to Palestine refugees, not least in the fields of health and education, both inside and outside refugee camps. In addition, UNRWA has a more typical humanitarian and emergency role due to the war in Syria, the devastation in Lebanon and the protracted and complex situation in Gaza.

Iceland is a longstanding donor of the agency. The current arrangement is focused on financial contributions and seconded experts. Iceland entered into a multi-year framework agreement with UNRWA in 2018. The agreement stipulates foreseeable core contributions, which tallies with Iceland‘s policy on international development cooperation for 2019-2023.


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an independent and impartial humanitarian organisation based in Geneva. The ICRC focuses on legal protection and assistance to victims of armed conflict under humanitarian law. In addition, the organisation advocates for the respect for and adherence to the Geneva Conventions.

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), administered by the ICRC, is the cornerstone for humanitarian action. Iceland therefore closely monitors the ICRC's work and provides the organisation with an annual financial contribution. Iceland also supports the ICRC through a framework agreement between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Icelandic Red Cross.

For more information on the Ministry‘s collaboration with the Icelandic Red Cross, please see Civil Society and NGOs

International Development Cooperation

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