Dilemmas, Challenges, and Ethics of Humanitarian Action

Dilemmas, Challenges, and Ethics of Humanitarian Action: Reflections on Médecins Sans Frontières' Perception Project

Edited by CAROLINE ABU-SADA
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 168
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1pq12z
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Dilemmas, Challenges, and Ethics of Humanitarian Action
    Book Description:

    What are the ethical issues involved in providing humanitarian aid? What is the real impact of humanitarian groups? Médecins Sans Frontières sought to answer these questions in the Perception Project, a study that spanned four years and more than ten countries. MSF interviewed close to 7,000 people in order to understand the ways that patients, populations, authorities, and communities perceive the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization's principles and medical practices. While the quality of its medical action is renowned and praised, MSF struggles with the ability to respond to crises, the safety of its teams, and the development of effective interactions with diverse populations and authorities. Dilemmas, Challenges, and Ethics of Humanitarian Action is a series of reflections on the Perception Project that presents the insights and analyses of authors from a diverse array of fields including communications, ethics, medicine, humanitarian studies, and political science. At a time when humanitarian aid is under increasing scrutiny, this book provides insiders' perspectives on how one of largest and most influential non-governmental medical organizations can better serve those in need. Contributors include Caroline Abu-Sada (MSF Switzerland), Naomi Adelson (York University) Donald C. Cole (University of Toronto), François Cooren (Université de Montréal), Sonya De Laat (McMaster University), Laurie Elit (McMaster University), Larissa Fast (University of Notre-Dame), Matthew Hunt ( McGill University), Kirsten Johnson (McGill University), Khurshida Mambetova (Former MSF Canada), Frédéric Matte (Université de Montréal), John D. Pringle (University of Toronto), Lynda Redwood-Campbell (McMaster University), Lisa Schwartz (University of McMaster), Chris Sinding (McMaster), Jennifer Ranford (University of Waterloo), Peter Walker (Feinstein International Center, Tufts University).

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8789-2
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acronyms
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 3-8)
    Caroline Abu-Sada

    The way humanitarian actors are perceived has attracted increased attention in recent years, mainly because of the emergence of new actors who challenge the very foundations of a certain form of humanitarian action, blurring lines between humanitarian and political agendas, and supposedly resulting in growing difficulties in gaining access to populations in conflict zones.¹

    Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) is a non-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) that provides medical assistance to populations caught up in crises that threaten their survival² – mainly armed conflicts but also epidemics, pandemics, natural disasters, or even exclusion from health care. Created in France in...

  5. PART 1: PERCEPTION OF MSF AS AN ORGANIZATION
    • 1 Reversing the Optics: MSF’s Perception Project
      (pp. 11-28)
      CAROLINE ABU-SADA and KHURSHIDA MAMBETOVA

      Médecins Sans Frontières (also known as Doctors Without Borders) conducted a three-year research project on how it is perceived in some ten countries in which it provides humanitarian medical aid.¹ With this study, MSF sought to obtain more information on local perceptions of its image and projects as well as to comprehend the general perception of humanitarian action in the areas in which it was involved.

      MSF states that it acts according to strong principles of independence, neutrality, and impartiality. These principles are a “trademark” of its identity and proof of the adequacy and efficiency of its intervention. Strict adherence...

    • 2 At the Limits of Perception: Humanitarian Principles in Action
      (pp. 29-47)
      FRANÇOIS COOREN and FRÉDÉRIK MATTE

      The desire to be viewed in a favourable light implies the desire for recognition – recognition of what singles us out, what differentiates us, and what drives us as individuals or as an organization. Thus, we seek to project traits that are meant to characterize us and to shape our identity. This projection comes through the values and principles for which we profess attachment and that are supposed to constitute not only our being but also our rationale for our actions. In other words, we seek to influence the views of others through what we do and what we claim...

    • 3 The Nigerian Lead-poisoning Epidemic: The Role of Neoliberal Globalization and the Challenges for Humanitarian Ethics
      (pp. 48-70)
      JOHN D. PRINGLE and DONALD C. COLE

      The lead-poisoning epidemic in northern Nigeria has been devastating. To date, more than four hundred children have died (over 40 percent of the children in one village alone), and there is an entire generation of village residents at risk of death or serious irreversible short- and long-term health effects.¹ First detected in March 2010, it has been described as unprecedented, the worst such outbreak in recorded history.² One report states: “Never before has there been a lead poisoning epidemic of this magnitude anywhere in the world.”³

      Shortly after the onset of the epidemic, I (first author) arrived as the epidemiologist...

  6. PART 2: PERCEPTION OF THE CHALLENGES FACED BY HUMANITARIAN ACTORS
    • 4 Western Clinical Health Ethics: How Well Do They Travel to Humanitarian Contexts?
      (pp. 73-88)
      LISA SCHWARTZ, MATTHEW HUNT, CHRIS SINDING, LAURIE ELIT, LYNDA REDWOOD-CAMPBELL, NAOMI ADELSON, SONYA DE LAAT and JENNIFER RANFORD

      Humanitarian health care providers from the global North face ethical challenges that are both similar to and distinct from those they encounter in their home contexts. They are distinct because of the complexities of needs encountered in disaster, conflict, and development settings. It stands to reason that the ethical values that help guide their work must also be similar to and distinct from those employed in their home contexts.

      We conducted an empirical study to examine Canadian health care providers’ experiences of ethical challenges. Our study, described in more detail elsewhere,¹ consists of in-depth qualitative interviews with twenty respondents, including...

    • 5 Programming, Footprints, and Relationships: The Link between Perceptions and Humanitarian Security
      (pp. 89-103)
      LARISSA FAST

      After the December 2007 Algiers bombing that killed seventeen un personnel from various agencies, the un ordered an investigation into the attack in order to identify lessons learned. Among other things, the investigation revealed an image problem, which UN personnel attributed to a widespread perception of the UN as effecting a “pro-Western” or “anti-Muslim” agenda. This image, in turn, hinders their work and threatens their security.² In Afghanistan, the perceived affiliation of some aid agencies with the allied political and military agenda put their national staff at risk during “coordinated assassination campaigns.”³ While perceptions can prove deadly in some cases,...

    • 6 Professionalizing Humanitarian Action
      (pp. 104-115)
      KIRSTEN JOHNSON

      The need for the professionalization of the humanitarian sector is widely recognized and the mechanisms for how such an association might be formed and how it might operate are being discussed at international meetings attended by, among others, academics, practitioners, humanitarian organizations, the UN, and the private sector. This chapter explores the concept of a professional humanitarian association and presents some ideas regarding how such an association could be developed by making use of examples from other fields. It concludes with recommendations for moving forward.

      Despite the advances of the humanitarian sector in building evidence-based training and service delivery, humanitarian...

    • Conclusion: The Shape of Things to Come – An Essay on Humanitarian Challenges
      (pp. 116-122)
      PETER WALKER

      The past decade has seen a rash of major complicated disasters: the 2004 Asia tsunami, an earthquake in Haiti, floods in Pakistan, a tsunami in Japan, and drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. A complex combination of climate change, globalization, and the breakdown of any semblance of good governance seems to have tipped communities from survival into destitution. What is going on? A statistical anomaly or a glimpse of things to come? In this chapter I seek to put these recent crises into context by looking at the role climate change and globalization are playing in driving disasters....

  7. MSF Charter
    (pp. 123-124)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 125-134)
  9. Index
    (pp. 135-138)