The international relief system is undergoing a twofold process of rapid and fundamental change. First, there are organisational changes aimed at improving the effectiveness and the coordination of the assistance provided, most notably within the UN system but also within the European Community (EC) Commission and the UK Overseas Development Administration (ODA). Second, there are changes in the international community's approach to sovereignty and the `rights' of humanitarian intervention. Many of these changes were set in train by the Kurdish refugee crisis and the response to it by the international community. Why was that operation catalytic? Where is the process of change leading? This Briefing Paper attempts to answer such questions by establishing the context and origins of these changes and providing an assessment of their likely impact on the effectiveness of the international relief system.