Global spending on humanitarian relief soared to a record $22 billion last year as conflicts in Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria combined with natural disasters such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, drove donors to pay out more emergency aid than ever before.

Donations from governments reached $16.4 billion last year, a 24 per cent rise from 2012 figures, says research group Development Initiatives (DI).

Private donations — from corporations, foundations, individuals and trusts, usually in response to natural disasters — grew by 35 per cent over the same period, according to preliminary estimates.

Despite a record level of aid, Dan Coppard, director of research and analysis at DI, said: “There is no place for complacency, with over a third of needs still not being met and demands set to rise in 2014 and beyond. As more actors provide assistance, we will need to improve the transparency of both humanitarian and other potential financial resources to target populations more effectively. Humanitarian assistance is only one small element of the total resources reaching crisis-affected countries, yet [it] continues to play a critical and unique function in providing a principled response to crisis-affected populations.”

The U.K. and U.S. were the top donors of humanitarian aid last year, while Turkey spent $1.6 billion on relief projects, mainly aimed at the 735,000 Syrian refugees living in the country, making it the third-largest donor.

The Syrian conflict continued to be one of the most expensive humanitarian disasters with $3.1 billion spent on shelter, food and emergency relief for refugees. After holding a Syria pledging summit, Kuwait increased its humanitarian spending more than any donor government, recording a 2,315 per cent increase from last year.

At the other end of the spectrum, Brazil’s humanitarian spending dropped by 97 per cent, while China cut aid by 84 per cent and Russia’s donations fell by 45 per cent.

“Despite increases in total assistance, figures show that there are stark disparities in the scale of humanitarian response, resulting in a number of crises being forgotten,” Mr. Coppard said. “Just under a quarter of the total international humanitarian response went to the top five recipient countries, while other countries such as Nepal, [Burma] and Algeria continued to be de-prioritised.”

Total donations are calculated by adding the humanitarian assistance expenditure of the 26 members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s development assistance committee, a group that directs aid flows from the world’s largest economies, with relief spending by other countries as noted by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its financial tracking service report, which records all reported international humanitarian funding and private sector spending.

Sources for the figures come from a data set of 75 NGOs, annual reports for six UN agencies with humanitarian mandates — the UN children’s fund, Unicef, UN Development Programme, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, the World Food Programme, and the World Health Organisation — and annual reports from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The full report will be published in September.

© Guardian News & Media 2014