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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Do No Harm: How Aid Can Support Peace - or War
Mary B. Anderson

(London: Lynne Rienner, 1999)
161pp. Index. Hb.: ISBN 1-55587-833-4. Pb.: ISBN 1-55587-834-2.

Do No Harm examines the impact of international aid in situations of conflict. The author stresses how 'aid given in the context of a violent conflict becomes a part of that context and thus also of the conflict'(p.145). Much of the previous work in this field has highlighted the negative impacts of aid, such as reinforcing intergroup tensions or 'fuelling' war economies. Chapter 4 of Do No Harm highlights ways in which this misuse of aid may be overcome. Where, however, this book goes further, is in suggesting that not only must the misuse of aid be avoided; but that aid can and should be used as an instrument in promoting peace. In this respect a cursory glance at the book's title may be misleading. For Anderson, aid groups must go beyond the maxim of the Hippocratic Oath and look to impact upon conflicts in ways that will promote peace. Within wars, it is claimed, there are local capacities for peace which must be supported and reinforced by aid programs. The author articulates her belief in the essentially positive nature of 'peace' in Chapter 2 and 3. At times the crusading imagery begins to grate, although the author does acknowledge that war and peace are not simple matters of black and white.

The second section of the book examines five case studies where aid may have promoted peace. Based on the reflections of aid workers, analysis is given of programmes by, Safe the Children in Tajikistan; UNICEF in Lebanon; the ICRC in Burundi; an indigenous NGO, Saint Xavier's Social Service, in India; and Trocaire in Somalia. All the cases highlight the difficulty of the task which the author has set. This much she acknowledges herself. The further problem with the thesis is one which will be articulated from within the aid community. Many would undoubtedly concur with the general thrust that 'peace is a positive goal' which should be encouraged. They may be less comfortable with the suggestion that they should be active agents in the attainment of this goal. Arguing that because aid can be misused by those who wish to continue war, it can therefore be used to promote 'peace', raises more problems than may be initially apparent. The danger is that the very basis of aid work may be undermined through this process. Nonetheless, many of the recommendations are pertinent and the book is a timely counterbalance to the multiple attacks on aid. It is a welcome addition to the literature which should appeal to academics and aid workers alike.

Liam O'Hagan
The Queen's University of Belfast

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