Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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New book asks humanitarian groups to rethink motives for global efforts

Author and humanitarian Fiona Terry said Tuesday night in Harris Hall that many humanitarian organizations end up prolonging the problems they try to alleviate.

“We need to be far more critical of humanitarian action,” said Terry, director of research for Doctors Without Borders, a group that provides emergency aid and health care to underprivileged populations. “There are many, many negative consequences of it.”

More than 60 students, faculty and local professionals attended Terry’s talk about her controversial new book, “Condemned to Repeat? The Paradox of Humanitarian Action,” as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Center for International and Comparative Studies.

Although Terry criticized some humanitarian groups, she did not say anything negative about Doctors Without Borders. She said her thesis is based on dilemmas faced in the refugee camps of Zaire, Pakistan, Honduras and Thailand.

Terry, a former refugee worker, said that in some cases aid organizers inadvertently helped people responsible for genocide. Terry said her group withdrew from countries where this has occurred.

She also criticized countries such as the United States for aiding nations for political reasons rather than moral ideals. Although her book has been critically acclaimed, Terry said many international aid organizations have been reluctant to address her assessments.

“Hopefully, if they actually read the book, there will be a little bit more of a debate,” she said.

Terry outlined several measures for improving humanitarian efforts. Organizations must be sure their aid is going to the right people and they must consistently evaluate the impact of their aid, she said.

Her willingness to tackle an overlooked view impressed many audience members.

“She addressed a lot of issues that get neglected with regards to humanitarian action and the need for a greater degree of scrutiny,” said Jamar Campbell, a Weinberg junior.

Ramesh Subramani, an ER doctor from Oakbrook, said he could relate to Terry’s lecture because of his experience working in Cambodia.

“There’s a lot of good intentions,” Subramani said. “But in general some of the programs weren’t well thought out.”

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New book asks humanitarian groups to rethink motives for global efforts