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Disasters. 2001 Dec;25(4):290-307.

Apples, pears and porridge: the origins and impact of the search for 'coherence' between humanitarian and political responses to chronic political emergencies.

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Humanitarian Policy Group/Overseas Development Institute, London.


During the 1990s a consensus emerged within the international humanitarian system that there was a need to enhance the 'coherence' between humanitarian and political responses to complex political emergencies. Closer integration between aid and political responses was seen to be necessary in order to address the root causes of conflict-induced crises, and to ensure that aid did not exacerbate political tensions. This paper explores the theory and practice of coherence over the past decade. It argues that, by sleight of hand, the coherence agenda has been reinterpreted such that humanitarian action has become the primary form of political action, rather than merely a substitute for it. The coherence agenda has been driven by geopolitical events, domestic policy considerations in donor countries and the more parochial concerns of aid policy, and is reflected in a number of substantive changes in the humanitarian architecture. Many of the tenets of this 'new humanitarianism' have been embraced by the majority of relief agencies, and thus legitimised it. The paper concludes that political humanitarianism, as opposed to active engagement by political and military actors, is flawed ethically and technically. It will provide neither an effective palliative for the ill effects of war, nor address its causes.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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