Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response | ActionAid UK

Emergencies, disasters and our humanitarian response

Areas we focus on:


ActionAid’s work in emergencies in 2018

Emergencies responded to

People supported by ActionAid

Dignity kits distributed to women and girls in Rohingya refugee camps


ActionAid’s recent emergency work

What are humanitarian crises or humanitarian emergencies? 

Humanitarian crises refers to an event or set of events that threaten the health, safety and livelihoods of a large number of people.1 

What are the different types of humanitarian crises?

Humanitarian crises can be divided into the following:

  • Man-made emergencies such as conflict and industrial accidents. 

  • Disasters such as tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, droughts, cyclones, hurricanes and even health-related epidemics. 

  • Complex emergencies which are a combination of both natural hazards and man-made emergencies such as food insecurity and displacement of people. 

Women and girls’ rights in emergencies

Ensuring that we work with women means that we do not overlook needs or vulnerabilities that are specific to women and girls in emergencies. We provide women-only safe spaces, where women and girls can access education and training, often for the first time in their lives. They learn to read, gain new skills and start to recognise their own potential.

In these safe spaces, women and girls receive emotional support for the horrors they have experienced. They can also access medical referrals for cases of rape and other forms of violence. You can learn more about our feminist approach to safe spaces for women and girls in emergencies in our policy report.

Download our report on safe spaces for women and girls

ActionAid Bangladesh has set up six safe spaces for women in the refugee camp for Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh. By the end of 2018, these safe spaces had supported nearly 16,000 women and girls who had escaped the conflict in Myanmar.

  • 1. https://www.humanitariancoalition.ca/info-portal/factsheets/what-is-a-humanitarian-crisis

Rapid response and recovery led by women 

We know from our emergency response work, most recently in Malawi, Indonesia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Bangladesh, Kenya, Somaliland and Nepal, that women bring vital skills, resources and experience to humanitarian response.

Women’s participation in decision-making is not only a fundamental human right. It has been proven to contribute to better disaster preparedness and risk reduction, as well as peace building and conflict resolution in communities.1 

  • 1. On the frontline: catalysing women's leadership in humanitarian action (PDF) http://www.actionaid.org/sites/files/actionaid/on_the_frontline_catalysing_womens_leadership_in_humanitarian_action.pdf

Building resilience for the future

In the months and years following an emergency, we work with local women to give them the support they need to face the future with renewed hope. This could be helping raise houses above floods levels, assisting them to get back to work with loans, or providing them with farmyard animals or means of transportation.

We endeavour to listen to what women and girls really need to rebuild their lives after an emergency. In Sierra Leone, our commitment to long-term support means we continue to work with grieving communities who were affected by the Ebola crisis, to help them recover from the physical, psychological and financial losses caused by the outbreak.

In areas that face high numbers of natural hazards, we train women to respond to the next disaster when it hits.

For example, in Nepal, ActionAid teaches schoolchildren skills to protect themselves when earthquakes strike.

In Bangladesh, we train women to lead people to shelters during cyclones. The results are astonishing: Cyclone Mahasen killed 17 people in Bangladesh in 2013, compared to 3,500 deaths as a result of Cyclone Sidr in 2007.


Page updated 5 October 2020