The Humanitarian Assistance Dilemma Explained: The Implications of the Refugee Crisis in Tanzania in 1994

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Despite the good intention of humanitarian agencies, humanitarian assistance and relief aid exacerbated the humanitarian crisis in Tanzania during 1994. In the case of Tanzania, humanitarian assistance relieved belligerents’ burden of sustaining conflicts, created safe spaces for armed combatants, undermined local economies, bestowed legitimacy upon belligerents, and fed armed combatants. This situation hence posed the typical humanitarian assistance dilemma for humanitarian agencies. While most scholars and aid practitioners suggest that humanitarian agencies should withdraw their assistance in these contexts given aid's apparent negative impact, there is relatively little research that properly identifies different kinds of ethical constraints and moral dilemmas that have long challenged humanitarian agencies. Referencing the case of late twentieth-century Tanzania, this article contextualises the humanitarian assistance dilemma and systematically examines the ethical predicaments that surround it. Its analysis sheds light on moral quandaries that humanitarian agencies need to address in conflict situations.
Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Change, Peace & Security
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)323-340
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Conflict
  • Refugees
  • Aid agencies
  • Humanitarian dilemma
  • Relief aid

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