Doctors Without Borders

Abused by Hope

Famine and Foreigners: Ethiopia Since Live Aid By Peter Gill (Oxford University Press, 280 pp., $27.95) In the fall of 1994, James P. Grant, the executive director of UNICEF, sent a message in the name of his agency to the upcoming Cairo conference on population and development, in which he declared that the world had within its grasp the means to solve “the problems of poverty, population, and environmental degradation that feed off of one another in a downward spiral [bringing] instability and strife in its wake.” Grant was a great man, a giant of the development world.

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Does the Obama administration have any idea at all what it wants out of its development efforts? In a recent speech at SAIS at Johns Hopkins, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Washington’s new six-year, $63 billion Global Health Initiative. She was at pains to differentiate the administration from its predecessor—yet one more recapitulation of a by now familiar trope, but one that is particularly disingenuous in the case of global health, where the Bush administration’s record actually was very good.

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Independent humanitarian action, commonly if not entirely accurately thought to have begun with the so-called ‘French Doctors’ in Biafra in the late-'60s, was never as independent as either relief groups like Oxfam, Doctors Without Borders, or the International Rescue Committee, themselves liked to claim or as the general public assumed them to be. U.S. organizations in particular, despite their efforts to develop an individual donor base, were always and remain too dependent on American government funding for the claim to stand up to scrutiny.

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NG-Uh-O

In the wake of Israel’s sanguinary assault on the MV Mavi Marmara, much of the debate has focused on the question of whether those aboard the Free Gaza flotilla were humanitarians, peace activists, or Hamas supporters. The benign, and, crucially, the depoliticized interpretation was that they were humanitarians bringing aid to a besieged people desperately in need of it.

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Left Behind

NYALA, Darfur -- When Sudanese President Omar Al Bashir was indicted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March, he responded by expelling 13 international aid agencies from Darfur and disbanding three other domestic relief groups. Khartoum claims the organizations were sharing information with the ICC, which both the groups and the court deny. With the void left by the ousted organizations, the United Nations has instituted emergency measures to help provide food, water, and other vital aid.

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Why we didn't prevent the genocide in Darfur.

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The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to the Genocide in Darfur By Brian Steidle and Gretchen Steidle Wallace (PublicAffairs, 237 pp., $14.95) War in Darfur and the Search for Peace Edited by Alex de Waal (Global Equity Initiative, Harvard University and Justice Africa, 431 pp., $24.95) Darfur's Sorrow: A History of Destruction and Genocide By M.W. Daly (Cambridge University Press, 368 pp., $22.99) Darfur: The Long Road to Disaster By J. Millard Burr and Robert O.

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The generals are deaf. As everyone now knows, the regime was warned by weather forecasters in India two days before the cyclone arrived--five days before by forecasters in Thailand--and it refused to listen. The generals hate their own people. The regime does not merely disdain them, it hates them, and the hate is cold, total and murderous. How else to explain the unimaginable sight of convoys being held by customs at the Thai border? Of planes filled with provisions and forbidden to land?

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Regarding the nomination of Bernard Kouchner to head France's Ministry of Foreign Affiars, I think first of France, of the image she has of herself, then what she shows the world. The arrival of Kouchner--this great Frenchman, respected everywhere, the man who invented Médecins sans frontières (Doctors without Borders) and Médecins du monde (Doctors of the World), the famous "French Doctors"--at the Quai d'Orsay is obviously good news. Only the naysayers are sulking, only the losers are muttering about treason, wailing, like [Molière's] Miser, Harpagon, "My money box!

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I am not sure just what it was that made me drop everything on December 31 and join six colleagues on a medical relief mission to Sri Lanka. At the moment I made the decision, it simply seemed like the right thing to do, and in retrospect it still does. But it turned out that the need for our small group was very different than we had anticipated: there was far less acute disease and injury than expected, but the human misery was of a sort that will require attention for years to come. In a strictly clinical sense, we accomplished far less than we had hoped. And yet it was important to be in that place at precisely that time. Ultimately, we did what doctors have always done, even before the Hippocratic physicians of ancient Greece enunciated their code of professional responsibility: we tried to help, as did so many others.

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