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Humanitarian Business

Thomas G. Weiss

ISBN: 978-0-745-66522-1 April 2013 Polity 200 Pages


With some 50 million people living under duress and threatened by wars and disasters in 2012, the demand for relief worldwide has reached unprecedented levels. Humanitarianism is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise, and aid agencies are obliged to respond to a range of economic forces in order to 'stay in business'.

In his customarily hard-hitting analysis, Thomas G. Weiss offers penetrating insights into the complexities and challenges of the contemporary humanitarian marketplace. In addition to changing political and military conditions that generate demand for aid, private suppliers have changed too. Today’s political economy places aid agencies side-by-side with for-profit businesses, including private military and security companies, in a marketplace that also is linked to global trade networks in illicit arms, natural resources, and drugs. This witch’s brew is simmering in the cauldron of wars that are often protracted and always costly to civilians who are the very targets of violence. While belligerents put a price-tag on access to victims, aid agencies pursue branding in a competition for 'scarce' resources relative to the staggering needs. As marketization encroaches on traditional humanitarianism, it seems everything may have a priceÑfrom access and principles, to moral authority and lives.

Figures vi

Abbreviations vii

About the Author ix

Foreword by Hugo Slim xi

Acknowledgments xv

Introduction 1

1 Responding to Humanitarian Demands 18

2 The Contemporary Landscape: Need and Greed 56

3 Coordination vs. Competition in an Unregulated Market 96

4 Market Distortions from Above and Below 123

5 The Push and Pull of Coming to the Rescue 143

6 What Next? 157

Notes 181

Suggested Reading 212

Index 218

"Extremely well written and clear, Humanitarian Business is an excellent introduction to modern humanitarianism."
Stephen Hopgood, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

"Thomas G. Weiss exposes the increasingly competitive nature of the humanitarian world as well as the ways in which states and other actors seek to manipulate emergency relief. An essential analysis of the contemporary aid industry."
Jeff Crisp, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees 

"Thomas G. Weiss has made an outstanding contribution to the understanding and policymaking of humanitarian action for more than twenty-five years. In this new book, he continues to do so by challenging international humanitarians and their government donors to think about their profession as a business."
Hugo Slim, Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, University of Oxford
  • A bold new account of the political economy of humanitarian assistance
  • Written by one of the world’s leading scholars in the field
  • Critically examines the effects of the encroachment of marketization on humanitarianism
  • Challenges humanitarians and their donors to rethink the conditions of their profession