A multibillion dollar business

From The Thin Blue Line: How humanitarianism went to war, by Conor Foley (Verso, 2010), pp. 14-15.

Humanitarianism has grown into a multibillion dollar industry. Its agencies, both UN and NGO, are at the forefront of delivering assistance in what have become known as ‘complex emergencies’ and are often the first on the scene, with distinctive logos emblazoned on T-shirts and vehicles. The headquarters costs of the major humanitarian agencies are considerable and require a constant fund-raising effort. Fund-raising appeals need to be dramatic and often perform better in financial terms if they are accompanied by a call for action aimed at the national or international authorities. Most British and American aid agencies now have sizeable media and advocacy departments whose work is based on, and essentially funded by, their operational programmes. Press offices and lobbyists are employed to highlight particular crises and make the public care about them. Their job is to stir people’s consciences to ‘do something to help’. This has institutionalized political humanitarianism in the work of most relief agencies.


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