Twenty years after the charity concerts for the Sahel Nigerien politicians, institutional donors, aid agencies and humanitarian organisations clashed on the nature and substance of the crisis affecting Niger in 2005. Identifying the causes of, and adequate responses to, the situation also gave rise to profound disagreements. Having set up their most ambitious emergency nutrition programme to date, Médecins Sans Frontières found itself at the forefront of these controversies.
“Humanitarianism in the Modern World. The moral economy of famine relief” published by Cambridge University Press, is an open access book written by a team of three people, whose aim is to provide a history of contemporary humanitarianism through the prism of famines. Norbert Götz, Georgina Brewis and Steffen Werther are treading on fertile ground, as the number of publications on the history of humanitarianism has multiplied in recent years. However, the contribution they present here is rich and original.
The articles and essays in this publication discuss the specific context in which famines arise and the responses mobilised to address them. MSF has been involved in a number of famine responses (Uganda 1980, Ethiopia 1984-1985, Somalia 1991-1993) and has contributed to many chronic and acute malnutrition operations (Niger, Sudan and Ethiopia in particular in the 2000s). As theses famines were systematically related to armed conflict, the political implications are particularly significant and consequently, feature as a common theme in most of the analyses.
In the context of emergency appeals in the Horn of Africa, Rony Brauman recalls the contemporary definition of a famine. While recognising the progress made in major crisis response mechanisms, he questions the alarmist attitude of the UN.
Fabrice Weissman highlights the political factors at work behind the threat of famine - which, though very real, cannot be fully explained by natural causes - and casts a critical eye on the relief system, as well.
The ‘Somalia 1991-1993: Civil War, Famine Alert and a UN "Military-Humanitarian" Intervention‘ case study is describing the difficulties and dilemmas met by MSF during the first years that it was committed to helping the Somali people.
The "Famine and Forced Relocations in Ethiopia 1984-1986" case study is describing the difficulties and dilemmas met by MSF during the famine that decimated the Ethiopian population in 1984-1985.
Humanitarian assistance has become entangled with migration and security agendas. Indeed, most humanitarian assistance in Somalia and in refugee camps is subordinated and in support of these two agendas.
For the past several months, news about food shortages and famines affecting large segments of the East African population have been fueling donation appeals from major public and private aid organizations.