The world of humanitarian aid has changed significantly since its heyday in the 1980s: more questions are now asked of international non-governmental organisations (INGOs) by both institutional donors and their national public. INGOs have also become more critical of themselves and of one another. Humanitarian aid is no longer accepted without question as a universal right and a good thing. Instead its positive value is dependant upon its outcomes and whether it does no harm. The complex emergencies of the 1990s served to test the idea of neutral, apolitical humanitarianism. As the distinctions between combatants and non-combatants were blurred it became increasingly difficult for INGOs to remain neutral.

At the same time as the ground rules of neutrality and impartiality are being questioned and the benefits of aid increasingly scrutinised INGOs are also faced with growing levels of insecurity. Humanitarian aid workers are no longer seen as ’respected and protected neutral healers’, instead they are increasingly becoming targets, hostages and victims ‘of an anarchy they cannot control’. Recent research by the Humanitarian Policy Group of ODI found that from 1997-2005 politically motivated incidents involving aid workers had increased by 208%. The study found that most aid worker victims were ’deliberately targeted, for political and/or economic purposes, rather than being randomly exposed to violence’. This change in the security environment is impacting on INGOs and the way in which they deliver aid.


Briefing Paper 18 - Dilemmas of Humanitarian Development

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