International Humanitarian Crises: Two Decades Before and Two Decades Beyond

TitleInternational Humanitarian Crises: Two Decades Before and Two Decades Beyond
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsKent, Randolph C.
JournalInternational Affairs
Pagination851 - 869
Date Published10/2004

Two decades ago, the United Nations' ability to deal with disasters and emergencies was underdeveloped, essentially lacking the commitment and capacity to deal with what are now called "humanitarian crises." Two decades later the UN, its programmes and specialized agencies, has increased its technical and tactical abilities to respond to such crises in ways that are far more systematic and coherent. And yet, despite such important developments, the UN is not strategic in its approach and cannot escape the pressure of political manipulation that threatens the fundamental humanitarian principles of impartiality, neutrality and independence. At the same time, the process by which the UN increased and now maintains its enhanced humanitarian role has made the institution far more self-obsessed. These trends do not bode well when confronted with the grave prospect of an increasingly disaster and emergency-prone world. Nevertheless, this article concludes with prescriptions that would make the UN far more capable of dealing with the sort of humanitarian challenges that may have to be faced over the next two decades.

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