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The MDGs and the humanitarian-development divide

The achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015 will be a hollow victory if those who are worst off – including many of those living in fragile states – see little or no improvement in their living conditions.This Opinion examines the gap between humanitarian and development agendas, which has been thrown into sharp relief by efforts around the MDGs. How does the international humanitarian agenda relate to the broader development agenda, and specifically that articulated in the MDGs? Humanitarianism is characterised by relatively short-term horizons and limited goals, but a strong sense of moral imperative to act in the face of human suffering. In other words, it takes the world as it finds it. Poverty is a contingent factor, not a defining concern. Some argue that the humanitarian/development divide is artificial, and that it creates an ideological and institutional barrier to more progressive programming. We should certainly be wary of a crude distinction that divides the world into ‘crisis’ states on the one hand and ‘normal’ states on the other. It is more accurate to say that the distinction is not artificial, but simply inadequate to describe the reality of people’s lives.