What is International Relief?

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  • Written By: J.S. Metzker Erdemir
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2019
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International relief is the humanitarian aid that people receive in countries that are in immediate and long-term crisis. Some international relief is emergency aid to help people who are at-risk or who have been displaced during a natural disaster or civil war. Other types of international relief are development programs that help build and strengthen vulnerable communities by giving assistance with education and infrastructure.

International relief organizations like the Red Cross and Red Crescent focus primarily on disaster assistance. In times following earthquakes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters, humanitarian aid organizations arrive to provide immediate assistance with people’s most basic needs: food, water, shelter, and medical treatment. International relief groups also try to help people who are at risk during economic and political crises by providing services and safety for refugees. The goal of emergency relief groups is to reduce suffering, death, and prolonged or repeated crises as much as possible.


Other humanitarian organizations focus on providing assistance to people who are at-risk after the immediate crisis has passed, particularly women, children, and people who are very poor. Communities that have been destroyed by disaster, civil unrest, disease, poverty, and economic crises are candidates for long-term international relief. This type of aid might be education programs to teach people about sanitation, HIV, family planning, and community leadership. They may also work to foster economic development and empowerment by teaching agricultural techniques or manufacturing skills using local products. The goal of this type of international aid is to strengthen communities so that they can carry on and be more self-sufficient when the aid organizations leave.

Building and re-building basic infrastructure is another mission of international relief. In some cases, a solid infrastructure may never have existed in a region. In other places, the infrastructure may have been compromised or destroyed by a natural disaster. Relief organizations work to build roads, water treatment and sewage facilities, as well as schools and hospitals.

Many relief organizations are based out of one country while others, like Doctors Without Borders, have workers and volunteers from all over the globe. The funding for international relief comes from individual, sectarian, and corporate donations as well as support from various governments. Although larger organizations have paid administrative and field staff, much of the manpower comes from volunteer workers. Aid from most international relief organizations is meant to be secular, non-partisan, and non-discriminatory.



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