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Report on the use of flexible funding in 2021

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Foreword by Dominique Hyde, Director of External Relations

We face a constant problem at UNHCR. Our job is to protect people's rights and meet people's needs. But we often have funding for only some people's rights and some people's needs. It’s not about the generosity of our donors. It’s about the impossibility of reconciling constantly evolving needs with a flow of funding that arrives already with a destination.

It’s understandable that donors sometimes wish to support particular causes. This year, for example, the war in Ukraine has prompted huge compassion and millions of people have rushed to help or donate in any way they can. Such contributions are invaluable in reducing suffering and injustice in this world. However, when so much of UNHCR’s funding is earmarked for specific situations, there is a risk of a funding drought in other areas of our work.

Nobody wants to see certain humanitarian needs getting left behind, just as nobody would want to see a public hospital being forced to reject emergency patients, or a village school turning away children who are eager to learn. But the reality is stark, as this report shows: since 2013, the majority of UNHCR’s funding has been earmarked and UNHCR has not always had the ability to meet the needs that clearly exist.

This is why UNHCR is constantly seeking more flexible funding. These are resources that come without a label, for use in an emergency or to cover acute needs that risk being neglected. Flexible funding is often used more than once: it may serve to bridge a short-term financing gap until earmarked funding arrives, at which point the flexible funds can be redeployed elsewhere. Flexible funding goes straight to the most urgent frontline cases and helps UNHCR to raise its game, rather than subsidizing back office overhead costs. Flexible funding is emergency funding.

For those donors who are willing and able to entrust UNHCR with the use of their funds, without applying conditions, flexible funding is the most powerful way to save lives and help millions of people build a better future.