Aftermath of the Second World War: humanitarianism at a crossroads?
in A history of humanitarianism, 1755–1989
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The chapter opens on the Second World War and the impact it had on the actors and the orientations of international humanitarianism. It then focuses on the long-term post-war programmes and it shows how the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), as well as later UN agencies, aimed to bring about a sea change in the way aid was conceived and administered. In fact, aid for the populations who had been the object of Nazi-Fascist aggression was an integral part of the post-war reconstruction plan and became the symbol of a new beginning in the history of humanitarianism. Feeding and clothing civilians – children in particular – the provision of basic medical care, stopping the spread of epidemics: these remained the main activities of the international programmes, whose intentions, though, were reformulated in the light of humanitarianism’s new aspirations. For example, the conviction – already widely held in the philanthropic tradition – was emphasised that aid and care should go beyond immediate relief and bring a genuine ‘rehabilitation’, physical and moral, to the recipients. The post-Second World War era was a great laboratory for humanitarianism. Within it, old and new convictions, practices and skills interwove themselves and were reformulated, standardised and ratified.

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