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Home arrow Sociology arrow Humanitarian ethics : a guide to the morality of aid in war and disaster



The current elaboration of humanitarian ethics has rightly focused on sustainability and accountability as central to its sense of moral obligation. These two concerns are really about good stewardship: how humanitarians can wisely care for their resources and the future.

Sustainability of effect is an ancient humanitarian concern that runs deep in all philanthropic manifestations of responsible giving. There is a long-held idea dating back to ancient times that the best charity changes a person’s abilities and opportunities and does not only meet their immediate needs. Environmental sustainability is a more modern incorporation into humanitarian ethics, but one that is now pressing. Accountability is also a traditional moral principle in most forms of mediated distributions of aid in which many individuals give through a single organization. It is widely agreed that they have “a right to know where their money has gone”. Increasingly, however, humanitarian agencies have recognized that they also need to account for their actions to the people they are trying to help, and not only to the people who finance their operations.

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