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Human Rights Quarterly 23.3 (2001) 852-857

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Book Review

Responding to Emergencies & Fostering Development: The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid

Responding to Emergencies & Fostering Development: The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid, edited by Clarice Pirotte et al. (London & New York: Zed Books, 1999) xxiii + 183 pp.

Responding to Emergencies & Fostering Development, first published in French and translated under this title into English by the Geneva Foundation for Health in War, offers the reader perspectives of relief and development experts representing nearly twenty-five mostly French nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). The book manages to pull different and sometimes conflicting views together in a discussion that explores the distinctions between relief, development, and rehabilitation; intervention strategies; crisis prevention; the struggle to implement international humanitarian law; and the dilemmas of working in areas controlled by guerillas or lacking government authority. Sprinkled through the work are brief case studies from locations including Mali, Bosnia, Rwanda, and Afghanistan. The book steers in a helpful direction by avoiding the issuance of some sort of codified rule to guide NGOs in complex and varied contexts, but still manages to skillfully affirm solid principles of intervention. Among these principles it highlights the importance of avoiding donor-driven programs but in the alternative affirming local participation in planning and implementation; the need for NGOs to analyze the potential political and economic effects of intervention; the need to consider impacts on and involvement of women; and the necessity of building up local capacity to deal with crisis and to manage development.

Responding to Emergencies & Fostering Development first devotes its attention to the analysis of "crisis" because, as the editors frame it, the old way that NGOs responded to crisis is not valid anymore. The editors say that NGOs can no longer import cookie-cutter responses to differing complex crises, but must analyze the impacts of intervention to avoid acting rashly or being exploited by special interest groups. 1 The events in the Great Lakes region of Africa in the 1990s affirmed the need for NGOs to get beyond simple thinking that economic development in and of itself would bring peace. Rwanda was one of the most economically assisted countries in Africa, but disintegrated into genocide in 1994 that some say claimed nearly a million Tutsi and moderate Hutu victims. 2 Development, says editor François Grunewald, must take into consideration the reinforcement of social cohesion by meeting basic objectives: first it must be "economically viable, ecologically reproducible, and socially just"; second it "must promote civil rights and the freedom of expression of citizens"; and third it "must promote the dissemination of a philosophy of peace." 3 Any strategy that does not meet these objectives, said Grunewald, risks creating crisis rather than preventing it. Urgent relief responses to crises, in the same vein as development interventions, cannot be [End Page 852] reduced to trucking in supplies, but must first and foremost be prefaced by an investigation into local survival strategies. Any intervention should complement and reinforce those strategies.

Other contributors mused that crisis can actually be a catalyst for positive change. Crisis can be the very event that helps to break a yoke of oppression. In this sense, NGOs obviously would not be acting in the best interest of the target population in attempting to avert or prevent crisis.

Jean-Christophe Ruffin, of the Institut des Relations Internationales et Stratégiques (IRIS), offers a concise history of conflicts since 1945 leading to his conclusion that conflict and crisis in the post Cold War era will no longer follow old patterns of phases of stability and instability, mediated in part by the two superpowers. 4 In the new millennium, according to Ruffin, we can expect local tensions to result in greater numbers of localized conflicts, more serious conflicts with the greater proliferation of weapons, and more regional conflicts as economic interests in affected areas are hampered. If Ruffin's hypothesis is correct, the unfortunate truth is that this book will become that much more relevant.

Pascal Vincent, of the Centre Internationale d'Etudes pour le Développement Local (CIEDEL), captures the evolution...


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