The UN and the Rise of the Humanitarian Tradition

  • Laurence Peters


Today, we take it for granted that given a humanitarian crisis, of which there have been more than a few in recent years, the United Nations (UN) will step in. There are no less than five UN agencies with humanitarian mandates—the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The total budget of these agencies amounted to $7.1 billion in 2010, with over half being taken by the WFP alone, which manages $3.2 billion. This humanitarian aid budget now equals 31 percent of the total UN budget, with an additional 23 percent expended on health, education, and water sanitation.1 It was not always so. The founders intended the UN to be primarily an organization dedicated to resolving conflict and only marginally attending to the issues that might raise conflict.2 How did the UN get itself so involved in what could be loosely termed relief work?


United Nations United Nations Development Program Geneva Convention Child Soldier Global Civil Society 
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© Laurence Peters 2015

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  • Laurence Peters

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