Humanitarian Aid: Beyond Charity

When Henri Dunant interrupted his travels to go to the aid of dying soldiers on the battlefield of Solferino in 1859 he was untroubled by many of the dilemmas facing modern day humanitarians. Dunant took no view on the rights and wrongs of the war, nor did he stop to think whether the people whose broken bodies he attempted to mend might recover only to don their uniforms and fight again. The modern concept of human rights hadn’t even been born. But a century and a half on, the humanitarian tradition inspired by Dunant and his followers in the Red Cross movement is under attack. It is derided by many as at best self-serving philanthropy and at worst, political blindness and criminal naivety.

The World Today Updated 26 October 2020 Published 1 August 2001 5 minute READ

Fiona Fox

Head of Media, CAFOD (Catholic Agency for Overseas Development)

There is a new humanitarianism for a new millennium. It is principled, ethical and human rights based. It assesses the long term impact of each humanitarian intervention on development and peace.

Aid will be witheld if to deliver it could prolong conflict and undermine human rights. The traditional humanitarian principle of neutrality is rejected as both morally repugnant and unachievable in the complex political emergencies of the post Cold War world.

Many prominent humanitarian actors in governments and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) favour new humanitarianism, including the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and the European Community Humanitarian Office (ECHO).

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