Humanitarian aid

Humanitarian aid is urgent financial or material assistance or know-how provided to another country for the purpose of saving lives, alleviating human suffering, and providing the essentials for a dignified life during or after natural or man-made disasters. In addition, assistance is provided to improve preparedness for and response to these situations. Humanitarian aid is a form of universal solidarity and a moral obligation.


Basic principles of humanitarian aid

In its humanitarian aid policy, Estonia is guided by the principles of providing humanitarian aid (PDF) as defined in the Constitution of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and in UN General Assembly Resolution 46/182.

  • Humanity – human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, saving lives and alleviating suffering while respecting the rights of the individual. Particular attention must be paid to the most vulnerable groups of the population.
  • Impartiality – humanitarian aid must be impartial and make no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, religious belief, or political opinions. Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need.
  • Independence – humanitarian aid organisations must provide assistance independently of political, economic, and military objectives.
  • Neutrality – humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious, or ideological nature.

The role of Estonia in providing humanitarian aid

The Estonian Refugee Council supports the introduction of innovative water-saving farming methods in northern Jordan, while supporting the livelihoods of Syrian refugees living there by creating employment opportunities. The Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for developing humanitarian aid policy and providing assistance. Assistance is provided on the basis of:

  • a request for assistance from the affected country or international organisation;
  • analyses by the United Nations, the European Commission, or the Red Cross;
  • international humanitarian law;
  • the European Consensus on Humanitarian Aid;
  • principles of good humanitarian donation;
  • the foreign policy development plan and the development cooperation and humanitarian aid programme.

The multiplicity of humanitarian crises and coping with them are becoming increasingly difficult for the international community. The effects of climate change and inequality are straining societies and hampering development. As protracted crises receive more attention, there is a need to link humanitarian aid and development cooperation in the early stages of a crisis. More attention must also be paid to prevention and national resilience. That is why cooperation with the EU in the field of civil protection and rescue is also important.


Estonia in multilateral cooperation


Directorate-General for European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

DG ECHO coordinates the humanitarian aid and civil protection policies of the European Union and finances humanitarian aid through various partners. Estonia supports the unified response and crisis coordination of the European Union member states through the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, which covers the entire disaster cycle from prevention and preparedness to response.

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

OCHA aims to ensure effective coordination of UN agencies in the provision of humanitarian aid. Estonia supports the central role of OCHA in responding to humanitarian crises and ensuring the exchange of information and cooperation between clusters. Since 2014, Estonia has been a member of the OCHA Donor Support Group (ODSG), which enables us to participate directly in the development of international humanitarian aid policy.
Our experts also participate in the work of the United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC). UNDAC is a group of experts on standby under OCHA. UNDAC missions play a key role in mapping aid needs and coordinating a coherent response to humanitarian disasters.

United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund

CERF aims to provide UN humanitarian organisations with the means to provide timely and flexible humanitarian aid in conflicts and natural disasters. Its assistance is targeted primarily at humanitarian crises and countries affected by forgotten or underfunded humanitarian disasters. Estonia has supported CERF since 2007.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Estonia has supported the activities of the UNHCR since 2001 and is a strategic partner. Since 2007, Estonia has been a member of the UNHCR Executive Committee (ExCom). The UNHCR aims to lead and coordinate international action to protect and assist refugees. When representing Estonia at the UNHCR, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs cooperates with the Ministry of the Interior.

World Food Programme

The World Food Programme mainly provides food aid. It is the largest humanitarian organisation in the world that fights hunger, ensures food security, and provides school food. Estonia has supported the WFP’s activities in Yemen, Jordan, Somalia, Lebanon, South Sudan, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere since 2008.

United Nations Population Fund

UNFPA leads activities in dealing with victims of gender-based violence. The main target group is women and teenage girls, who are provided with psychosocial assistance and access to medical services. Estonia has supported the UNFPA activities mainly in Ukraine, where such assistance is essential in areas close to the contact line.

International Committee of the Red Cross

Since its founding in 1863, the ICRC has provided humanitarian aid in almost every conflict. Estonia has supported the activities of the ICRC since 1998 and is a strategic partner. Estonia acceded to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols in 1993. In doing so, Estonia recognised the mandate of the ICRC to protect and assist civilians in military conflicts. When representing Estonia at the ICRC, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Representation in Geneva cooperate with the Estonian Red Cross Society and the Ministry of the Interior, and with the Ministry of Defence in the field of development of humanitarian law. Estonia supports the activities of the ICRC with annual voluntary donations and earmarked allocations in accordance with requests for assistance in, for example, Ukraine, Afghanistan, and Syria.

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies

Founded in Paris in 1919, it is the largest humanitarian organisation in the world with 187 national societies around the world. The IFRC Secretariat is located in Geneva. The Federation and its members are the first to organise rescue operations in humanitarian situations, especially after natural disasters, as they are present on the ground in many areas and are ready to respond immediately.

International Organization for Migration

Founded in 1951, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is an intergovernmental organisation that works closely with governments and intergovernmental and non-governmental partners. In September 2016, the IOM joined the UN system. Estonia became a member of the IOM in 2004. When representing Estonia at the IOM, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Permanent Representation of Estonia in Geneva cooperate with the Ministry of the Interior.



Last updated: 12 April 2022

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