Aid in Danger: The Perils and Promise of Humanitarianism, Larissa Fast

Reviewed by Taylor B. Seybolt



The double entendre of the title, Aid in Danger, neatly hints at the concerns that animate Larissa Fast’s analysis of the causes and consequences of the upward trend in deliberate attacks on national and international humanitarian aid personnel. On the practical level, she identifies “external” and “internal” sources of danger faced by aid organizations. External sources—those beyond aid organizations’ control—are familiar and often debated. Fast is not concerned with any particular external threat but instead with the humanitarian community’s almost exclusive attention to the category “external” because it removes the agency of humanitarians and exempts them from personal responsibility for their security. She makes the case for giving equal attention to internal security considerations, such as the public behavior of off-duty international personnel, and paying close attention to local community dynamics when hiring national staff. Emphasis on the security effects of daily decisions and activities is, in itself, a contribution to the literature on humanitarian aid.

On a deeper level, Fast argues that the entire humanitarian enterprise is in danger of losing its essence because of “the gradual erosion of the principles of neutrality, impartiality, and independence that safeguard t

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