The UK’s humanitarian response to COVID-19

A review assessing emergency UK aid support for populations in humanitarian need as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Score: Green/Amber
  1. Status: Completed
  2. Published: 14 July 2022
  3. Type: Full review
  4. Subject: Humanitarian assistance
  5. Assessment: Green/Amber
  6. Location: Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Nepal, Yemen
  7. Lead commissioner: Tamsyn Barton
  8. SDGs covered:Zero hunger, Good health and wellbeing, Gender equality

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This review, which was awarded a green-amber score, finds that the UK’s rapid humanitarian response to the COVID-19 pandemic has saved lives and built resilience, but could have done more to ensure inclusion of some vulnerable groups.


  • The UK government was quick to recognise the likely impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic in developing countries, and to mobilise a response at both global and national levels.
  • While there was no new funding for the COVID-19 response at country level, the UK worked systematically to identify opportunities to adapt programmes and support national responses.
  • The UK’s reliance on existing programming channels meant that some groups made newly vulnerable by the pandemic, including the elderly, the urban poor and migrant workers, were not always given priority in the response.
  • The UK’s response was coherent and coordinated, both across the department and with international partners, and it made an important contribution to national coordination and information-sharing mechanisms.
  • However, successive reductions to the UK aid budget in 2020 and 2021, and the September 2020 creation of the merged FCDO, hampered the UK response.
  • Although outcomes were difficult to quantify, the UK made a substantial contribution to saving lives and reducing hardship during the critical early phase of the pandemic.
  • The UK’s response has also helped build resilience to future emergencies by strengthening national systems and capacities.


  1. The FCDO should undertake an after-action review of its COVID-19 response, to identify lessons on information management, management processes and programming options, to inform its future responses to complex, multi-country emergencies.
  2. To fulfil its commitment to localising humanitarian response, the FCDO should make long-term investments in building national disaster-response capacities, including mechanisms for directing funding to local non-state actors.
  3. Building on its past investments in cash-based humanitarian support and national social protection systems, the FCDO should invest in flexible social protection systems which help the most vulnerable at times of shock.


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Published 4 November 2021

Evidence gathering


Review publication

14 July 2022

Government response

Published 5 December 2022

ICAI follow-up

Published 18 July 2023

Further follow-up

Expected summer 2024