Chapter 5: Humanitarianism and humanitarian relief
Relief aid given immediately after an event aims to save lives, keep those saved alive, and alleviate extreme suffering. It is usually constructed as driven by some notion of a moral duty to respond to the suffering of humanity, that is, to respond to all sufferers, regardless of how distant, and regardless of nationality or politics, religion or culture. As the politics of aid discussed in the previous chapter highlights, the idea that the response immediately after an event is apolitical and equal for all is questionable. Yet notions of neutrality and universalism are what inform the idea of humanitarianism, which underpins the relief period. While the idea of humanitarianism has a long tradition, events in the 1990s, in particular, highlighted problems with the traditional or classical view of humanitarian aid, which led to changes in how aid giving is practised on the ground. The changing face of humanitarianism has allowed it to emerge as an extremely valuable public relations tool for international actors involved in conflicts, and can either be read as suggesting a move to a more ethical or moral foreign policy (Chandler 2001) or, conversely, as embedding humanitarianism on the margins of contemporary war (Mills 2005). This chapter will explore the changing conceptualisation of humanitarianism and consider what this means for relief efforts post disaster in the developing world. Much of the debate on humanitarianism has related to the post-conflict context but, as this chapter will demonstrate, not only do ‘natural’ disasters and conflicts combine to produce complex political emergencies,
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