Humanitarian Challenges and Intervention: World Politics and the Dilemmas of Help

Humanitarian Challenges and Intervention: World Politics and the Dilemmas of Help

Humanitarian Challenges and Intervention: World Politics and the Dilemmas of Help

Humanitarian Challenges and Intervention: World Politics and the Dilemmas of Help

Synopsis

There are two distinct contemporary challenges to the relief of war-induced human suffering: one that occurs within the institutions that make up the international humanitarian system, the other in war zones. Varied interests, resources, and organizational structures within institutions hamper the efficiency and effectiveness of humanitarian operations. At the same time- on the ground- ethical, legal, and operational challenges and dilemmas continually arise that require humanitarian actors to choose a course of action with associated necessary evils. Humanitarian Challenges and Intervention shows how institutional concerns- combined with the domestic context of armed conflicts- often yield policies that do not serve the immediate requirements of victims for relief, stabilization, and community reconstruction. Based on case studies of the post- Cold War experience in Central America, northern Iraq, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia, and Rwanda, the authors make recommendations for a more effective and efficient humanitarian system.

Excerpt

A steady stream of gruesome images assaults your senses. Within a few short years, the media have loaded your visual memory bank with pallid Bosnian faces behind barbed wire in concentration camps; corpses floating on Lake Victoria after Rwanda's genocide; adolescent warriors riding Jeeps with machine guns and contributing to Somalia's failed statehood and starvation; and waves of freezing Kurds fleeing Saddam Hussein into mountain passes. There are probably fifty wars with accompanying human suffering going on across the globe today. In the past decade, war has taken the lives of 2 million children. Every fifteen minutes, someone steps on a land mine.

This is the world of humanitarian action. Although you may feel removed from such nightmarish events, this is your world, too. Some 6 billion people share it with you. One to 2 billion lack clean water or sanitation. Some 50 million of your global neighbors are homeless tonight because of war or famine; millions of others are displaced or in fear of homelessness because of the more subtle violence of chronic poverty. More people with fewer resources and less hope result in environmental degradation; massive migration; the quick spread of diseases not adequately addressed or quickly identified, such as acquired immune deficiency syndrome; and increased conflict, with its accompanying proliferation of light and conventional weapons.

For humanitarian specialists whose business it is to track and intercede in these matters, witnessing and administering to the needs of those steeped in human tragedy carry their own elements of suffering and vulnerability. Victims of war and humanitarians have been physically and emotionally tossed about in varying degrees by armed political struggles and an unpredictable international political will to end the tragedies that are the media's daily bill of fare. The ethical, legal, and operational challenges and dilemmas that occur in war zones present tortuous trade-offs to policymakers and to those working directly with victims. If you worked in such a position, your decisions would bear life-affecting consequences. Would you choose to move noncombatants out of the country, lead them to food distribution points within country, or designate an area as a safe haven? Would you focus solely on delivering food and medical supplies and turn a blind eye to blatant vio-

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