Book Review (From Publishers Weekly)
The role of humanitarian organisations in the world's troubled and violent regions has never been so vital, or so debated. Over the course of this collection's 17 essays (written by scholars, journalists and humanitarian relief workers), 11 of the world's greatest humanitarian crises of the past five years are scrutinised for their successes and failures.
From the moderately successful U.N. intervention in East Timor, to the U.N.'s absence in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, humanitarian action has often failed to live up to its exalted ideals, suggests this volume. With a clear, and often critical eye, the essays in this collection not only expose the shortcomings of the various humanitarian organisations, particularly the U.N., but also succeed in illuminating the complex moral and political debate that surrounds even the most basic relief operations.
Saving lives is the ultimate purpose of any humanitarian action, and yet, according to the authors, that seemingly simple purpose is inevitably shrouded in a host of complicating, and often conflicting, values. The humanitarian ideal "is peaceful by nature but not pacifist," and therefore must inevitably contend with the specter of violence that comes with every relief operation. By focusing on the particular details of each intervention, the essays in this book succeed in going beyond the conventional stereotypes and myths of rebel atrocities and hapless governments. As such, they are an excellent resource for scholars and professionals in the field.
Hurst & Company, London