The History of International Humanitarian Assistance


Notes on Developments in 19th and 20th centuries




in addition to earlier religious traditions, new 18th century secular ideas of compassion for human suffering


main focus on poor relief, child and other labor laws, etc. as 19th century industrialization produces problems in growing urban


first international manifestation is in opposition to slavery and the slave trade (along with religious-based concern)


-to 1860s: examples of other responses to international suffering


Lisbon earthquake (1755) 30,000 die


Abolition of Slave Trade campaign (1807 in Britain; 1808 in U.S.; 1826 France; 1819 Portugal north.of Equator)


Greek War of Independence (1821-32)


Irish Potato (and other) Famine (1846-48)


Crimean War (1854-56)


Austro-French War (1859-60)


American Civil War (1861-65)


-1860s to 1914: Origins of Red Cross; international awareness of disaster and cooperation


Red Cross: from Solferino (Austro-French War) to Franco-Prussian War 1870) organizing medical assistance in wartime


Other wars: Balkan, Spanish-American (1898), Russo-Japanese (1904)


Natural disasters


Floods in China (1887 Yellow River, 900,000 die)


Earthquakes (Martinique 1902, Chile 1906)


Famines (Russia 1891-92, 500,000 die; Persia 1871; India 1876-79: 6-10 million die; China 1876-77; 1896-1902: 6-19 million est. die


Epidemics: Cholera in India 1904-1909, spreads to southeast Asia, Russia; plague in India 1904-1907; spreads to Burma, eventually Manchuria 1910-11


International organizations: for commerce, trade and some humanitarian assistance: womenıs suffrage, anti-slave trade (white and black), anti-opium (Shanghai conference 1909)


Civilizing Mission and European colonialism


-First World War


relief needs during war


treatment of prisoners, civilian population


relief after war


Western Europe: France, Belgium


Eastern Europe (new countries)


Russia: Civil War, Hoover and ARC,


Former Ottoman Empire: wars (Greek) and Armenian genocide


International organizations: League of Nations, League of Red cross Societies, Health Organization, etc.


-Interwar Period


Colonies and mandates


Natural disasters


Earthquakes: Tokyo 1923, Chile 1939


Famine: China 1920-21, 1929; Russia 1920-21, 1932-33


Epidemics: cholera E. Europe 1915-22; Manchurian plague 1920-21 60,000 die


Flood: China 1931 Yangste River, 3.7 million die from flood, disease and famine


Wars and manmade crises


Japanese invasion of China 1931


Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) 1935


Spanish Civil War 1936-39


Jewish persecution in Germany and refugees


-Second World War


1939-41 US neutral, relief to France and China


Oxfam (1942)


Postwar relief: CARE, refugees and resettlement (UNRAA), Palestine and Jews


Cold War to 1970s


UN organizations


From relief to development: bilateral v/s multilateral assistance


Decolonization and Rise of non-aligned ³Third² world




Rise of NGOs


MSF and independent humanitarian assistance


Failures: Cambodia, Boat People, Ethiopian famine in 1980s




1990s and after



Bosnia (1991-95), Somali civil war (1991-93), Iraq 1 (1991), Rwandan genocide (1994), Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan (2001-), Iraq 2 (2003-)


Natural disasters:


Hurricane Mitch (Central America 1998, 11,000 died); Indian Ocean tsunami (2004)


Epidemic: HIV/AIDS (2004 3.1 million worldwide died of AIDS-related diseases)