A woman is building a shelter in Dadaab refugee camp

The Poverty of Humanitarian Critique?

Bertrand Taithe

Born in France, Professor Bertrand Taithe studied at the Sorbonne with Professor François Crouzet and began his career as a historian of urban sociology. He later moved into the history of medicine and sexuality and is particularly interested in the history of humanitarian aid.Professor Taithe is a prolific author, Editor of the European Review of History, and Executive Director of HCRI. His publications are available here.

While MSF has just recently launched a report, 'Where is everyone?', aiming at exposing the limitations and deficiencies of the international aid response to crises, Bertrand Taithe from the HCRI and a member of the scientific committee of the Crash asks, in a text published on his blog, whether the approach taken and the question asked are the right ones.

Médecins sans frontières has just released a short critical report on the absence of humanitarian aid in critically endangered regions of the world. Its title, Where is everyone? is in many ways the full extent of its message. This document is not without merits even if many will find its tone difficult to fathom. MSF does have the legitimacy to articulate a critique and to ground it in its own history of long-term engagement in the most dangerous parts of the world but is it the right way and is it the right question?

To argue as the authors do that humanitarian response lacks impact (which has two meanings, a ballistic one or influence, neither correct it seems to me) is perhaps to demonstrate, in a negative form, the hubristic aspirations of an industry; which, whatever its claims to massive expansion, remains artisanal. If the Yogurt market worldwide is estimated at $69bn the international humanitarians weigh in a third of this at most. This is not to mention the c. 1.5 trillion dollars weapon industry for those who might imagine humanitarian aid as a counterweight to militarism. The question is not therefore perhaps where is everyone? But was there ever anyone? Starting from a position of humility might correct a little two of the fundamental assertions at the heart of this paper: that the humanitarian sector is rapidly expanding but its fields of operation are contracting. The humanitarian sector is not large, it has hardly grown in the past six years and it was not much more present in the medium or distant past.


To cite this content :
Bertrand Taithe, “The Poverty of Humanitarian Critique?”, 8 juillet 2014, URL : https://msf-crash.org/en/blog/humanitarian-actors-and-practices/poverty-humanitarian-critique

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