The Humanitarian’s Dilemma: collective action or inaction in international relief?

Working and discussion papers
August 2010
Ben Ramalingam and Michael Barnett

The humanitarian sector has been under scrutiny in the wake of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010 and there has been criticism of its supposed lack of self examination. This Background Note points out that humanitarian aid organisations do examine their work and that many of the critiques aimed at the sector were first identified by the sector itself more than a decade ago. This Background Note asks why, therefore, such critiques continue to have traction, ten years later.

The Background Note examines the stated reasons for the apparent lack of change put forward by those within the sector. It moves on to introduce analytical frameworks which may help uncover some important underlying and often neglected issues. Following a preliminary application of these ideas to the sector, it reflects on the implications for its future and suggest how change might be brought about.

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