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The Limits of Humanitarianism

Time (GMT +01) 16:30 18:00

Hugo Slim, Chief Scholar, Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue
Tony Vaux, Independent Consultant

John Mitchell
, Head, ALNAP

Randolph Kent, Director, Humanitarian Futures Programme

‘The limits of humanitarianism’ was very well attended, no doubt in part because the speakers and chair were well-known opinion formers with a great deal of experience in humanitarian action.

The meeting was billed as the launch of the most recent ALNAP Review of Humanitarian Action, to which Hugo and Tony each contributed chapters. They each presented the core ideas they had covered in the Review and were then questioned and challenged by a very diverse audience.

A range of views were expressed regarding how succesful the current form of the humanitarian enterprise is, and how successful it can be. Innovation, regulation, accountability, and some key issues that are not but perhaps should be among those at the centre of our current concerns, were all mentioned.


At this ALNAP and ODI event, Hugo Slim and Tony Vaux presented and discussed the chapters they wrote for the 2006 ALNAP Review of Humanitarian Action.

As Randolph Kent, the Director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme, wrote in his endorsement of the Review, 'the contributors to this year's edition proffer perspectives and recommendations that humanitarian organisations ignore at their peril.'

In his contribution to the Review, entiteld ‘Global welfare: a realistic expectation for the humanitarian system?’, Hugo Slim addresses the realistic expectations of the international humanitarian system as 'just one of many emerging but contested areas of potential common action in international society today' and proposes 'calibrated operational realism' as a positive approach towards a better system.

Tony Vaux addresses proportion and distortion in humanitarian assistance in his synthesis of the findings which have emerged from recent evaluations of humanitarian action, entitled ‘Proportion and distortion in humanitarian assistance’.  He argues that 'over the years the humanitarian system has developed structures that reflect sentiment and interest rather than need' and suggests some ways forward.