Ulster Logo
Link to facebook  Link to INCOREinfo on twitter  Link to INCORE rss feed    Linkedin link Linkedin link

The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .

Responding to Emergencies and Fostering Development: The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid
Claire Pirotte, Bernard Husson & François Grunewald (eds.)

London: Zed Books, 1999
185pp. Index. Biblio. Hb.: £45.00; ISBN 1-85649-754-2. Pb.: £14.95; ISBN 1-885649-755-0

A growing body of work examines the significance of interventions by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in conflict situations. One such book is Responding to Emergencies and Fostering Development, which is a translation of the 1997 findings by the Urgence-Réhabilitation-Développement (URD) Group. The URD consists mainly of French emergency and development NGO's, but also incorporates the views of organisations such as the ICRC and ACORD.

In large part the book is an attempt to foster debate between emergency (often called humanitarian) and development organisations. It is suggested by the books editors that both emergency and development organisations are guided by similar motives. Therefore they hope that this debate can lead to better co-operation between the two 'communities'. To this end, Section two of the book looks at how the different NGOs might combine their skills. Here we are introduced to the concept of rehabilitation, which aims to, "take over progressively from humanitarian action and prepare for the resumption of development aid in the middle and long terms." (p. 165) Rehabilitation may therefore appear to be a term that describes any work that is 'neither emergency nor development'. Obviously this is not the authors' intention. Rather, they hope that rehabilitation work can provide a link between emergency and development work, but with the stated aim to 'provide a structure for a better life.' Undoubtedly this is somewhat confusing and this reader was not fully convinced by this section of articles. Admittedly, the difficulty of differentiating between emergency, development and rehabilitation work is acknowledged by many of the authors. A further barrier to increased co-operation is the reluctance of various NGOs to give up their existing 'share of the aid cake.' Given the stated aims of the authors, and the fact that most work for NGOs, it is perhaps not surprising that this problem gets less attention.

The book has three other sections. Section one seeks to analyse crisis in the belief that a better understanding of how 'crises' emerge, develop and are resolved, will improve the NGO response. Section three conceptualises outside intervention in crises with the stated aim of improving relations with local partners. The familiar refrain is that NGOs must seek to empower local people in crises and, 'help them to help themselves.'

Section four is entitled 'Open Debates', reflecting the belief that there is no consensus with regard to solving the many problems previously raised in the book. In fact, this section appears to house contributions that were deemed not to fit into any of the previous sections. Nevertheless it contains some of the more interesting articles in the book. Indeed, throughout the book, many of the contributions rest uneasily in their particular section. The contributions from Vincent (6), Laurent (9) and Biberson (10), in Section One, for example, might be usefully placed alongside those in the open debates section that deal with how NGOs justify their work.

While almost all of the contributions are useful, the many interesting parts of the book do not add up to a fully satisfactory whole. The book covers a plethora of issues and inevitably given its scope one is frequently left asking for more. This is particularly the case as many articles are only one page or less in length. This volume is, however, valuable, particularly as it brings the perspectives of French NGOs to an English speaking audience. What is also made clear is that these NGOs play an important role, and are a very real dynamic in conflict. Indeed what is perhaps most apparent from reading this book is the political nature of all aid.

Liam O' Hagan, INOCRE

Disclaimer: © INCORE 2010 Last Updated on Monday, 10-Aug-2015 12:20
contact usgoto the search page
go to the top of this page