National Relief Funds in Asia During COVID-19

Exploring Government-Run National Relief Funds

Published: February 2024

When the COVID-19 global pandemic began in March 2020, some governments in Asia established their own relief funds to address the pandemic. These government-run (or “national”) relief funds typically accept both public and private donations, but are established and managed by governments, often for the purpose of meeting humanitarian needs. Before COVID-19, they have existed in certain contexts and regions (for instance, in South Asia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia) for some time, but are not well-documented or understood – particularly in terms of their impact on civil society.

In a time of growing crises, there is a need to scrutinize the impact of such national disaster relief funds on civil society as well as on humanitarian assistance, and to learn more about how these funds operate. The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in more examples of relief funds being established by governments. In some cases, such funds were criticized for lacking transparency and public accountability, or siphoning resources away from civil society.

This paper explores government-run relief funds established for the purpose of COVID-19 pandemic response, and how these funds impacted civil society in countries in Asia. The paper draws on case studies from six countries that have set up national relief funds to address COVID-19: India, Indonesia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.