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Needs and Vulnerability in the Balkans: The Case of Serbia

Working papers

This study explores the extent to which the ‘developing-country paradigm’ was adapted to the particular context of Serbia. For instance, were the indicators and standards used in developing countries adjusted? Generally, the humanitarian community is ill-equipped to deal with environments such as Serbia, where acute malnutrition, epidemics or food shortages did not constitute the principal threats to the population. Humanitarian agencies had to revise their definition of humanitarian needs; needs were not so much spelled out as ‘a lack of something’, but in terms of vulnerability to future threats.

The omnipresence of the political dimension and the particular role of humanitarian aid raise the question of impartiality. Was impartiality possible, and at what cost? Was the humanitarian response to Serbia proportionate to the needs, and appropriate in its form? This study attempts to answer these questions, with a closer look at how ‘humanitarian needs’ were defined in the first place, and the level of humanitarian response.

The study, conducted in February–March 2003, is based on a review and analysis of primary and secondary literature, complemented by interviews with personnel from the UN, the Red Cross movement, non-governmental organisations and officials from the Serb government.

Charles-Antoine Hofmann