International Humanitarian Assistance

International humanitarian assistance is prompted by people’s sympathy with those less fortunate than themselves in other countries.

There are moral feelings behind making both private and public donations to people in developing countries.  People in wealthy countries feel a connection to those less fortunate, through their common humanity, and want to alleviate their suffering.  Many respond generously as individuals, through charities, to requests for humanitarian assistance in the case of natural disasters.

Governments can also become directly involved in international humanitarian assistance, marshalling the necessary resources when the disaster concerned is on the other side of the world, but they would not take such steps unless they felt that the population agreed with the spending of public money.  If people feel that their government is not behaving morally with regard to developing countries, they can put pressure on their politicians to do better – as described above (4.3.4).

For example, in 2010 The Guardian published an analysis of $2.4 billion promised in donations: Haiti earthquake aid pledged by country.  It showed that the funds received didn’t match the promises – suggesting that politicians had grabbed favourable headlines but hadn’t followed through.

Tax only supports a minimum level of government aid to people in other countries and many people feel that they want to give more and can afford to do so.  Peter Singer’s philanthropic organisation, The Life You Can Save, argues that it is a moral duty for individual people to give charity privately, or to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), or do volunteer work in developing countries.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/4351.htm.