The Humanitarian Times

January 26, 2001

TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2000, YEAR-END RECAP

1.  - "STATE OF THE WORLD'S REFUGEES:  50 YEARS OF HUMANITARIAN ACTION" by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), 2000 (Mark Cutts editor, Geneva), previously reviewed in the Nov. HT, presents history of past crises, including the massive 10M refugee flow from Bangladesh into India during the 1971 war with Pakistan, & the mass flight of refugees from Rwanda (e.g. 1961), & the 14M displaced during the partition of India/Pakistan, using a superb balance of text, break-out boxes, photos & maps.  Cases from the 1990s describe Bosnia, Kosovo, E Timor, Iraq, Rwanda, & the 120,000 aid-dependent Sahrawi refugees who still seek return to Western Saharan territory occupied by Morocco.  Makes an excellent encyclopedia in combination with the 1995 & 1997 editions, also by UNHCR, of "State of the World's Refugees." (sse also here)
2.  - "OPERATIONAL SECURITY MANAGEMENT IN VIOLENT ENVIRONMENTS" by Konraad van Brabant  (2000, London: Overseas Devt. Inst.  ISBN: 0 85003 457 4) comprehensively reviews latest advice on how aid agencies can & should protect their staff working in emergencies, many of which involve violent conflict, banditry, sexual assaults, landmines & kidnapping.  The text promotes scenario thinking, preventive action & clear protocols, urging, for example, analysis of local trends in crimes, incidents & tensions.  Chapters address the need for contact lists, maps, radio equipment, management protocol, recruitment of local drivers & analyze private security companies, insurance coverage, & the structure of UN personnel security system.  Van Brabant encourages NGOs to recognize & manage staff stress.  The text recommends practical tactics each NGO should adopt, such as:  have & know radio call ID's for staff, & knowing radio protocols (clear channel by repeating "mayday" 3 times); track all agency vehicle movements, have in every vehicle a radio ("if possible, hand-held radios for those moving away from the car"), plus a first aid kit, & mine-prodding equipment such as a long screwdriver or knife with 15cm blade. 
3.  "GEOPOLITICS OF HUNGER: 2000-2001: HUNGER & POWER" by Action Against Hunger (ACF), an operational non-profit, & will be reviewed in a future edition of HT, includes 34 essays on man-made famines, Kosovo, Nicaragua, Tajikistan, food aid, & the work of ACF which has played a pioneering role in places such as Sierra Leone & Congo-Brazzaville.  Barnett Rubin summarizes, "just as classic humanitarianism was founded to ensure that soldiers wounded in battles between states were cared for as human beings, the new humanitarianism was founded to challenge the use of violence against noncombatants in civil wars ...(but) in total wars where the aim is to subordinate, expel or eliminate a whole population, control of food ...becomes the means of choice to impose submission, flight or death." (2000 Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Pub,  ISBN 1 55587-925-x)
4.  WILLIAM SHAWCROSS' 2000 "DELIVER US FROM EVIL:  Peacekeepers, Warlords & A World of Endless Conflict" (Simon & Schuster; ISBN 684 83233-x), describes a dozen recent emergencies & their complexities, for example how commercial kingpins control aspects of the economy in crises, stoking the fires of nationalism, turning conflicts to their for-profit needs.   Shawcross builds his reflections from his own early influence by the disaster expert Fred Cuny who sought to rethink the system of relief operations which are invariably "hampered by slow deployment... breakdown in neutrality; more & more need for military protection of humanitarian operations," & where "Voluntary agency staff (are) too young & inexperienced:  no institutional memory."  Shawcross traces the history of relief strategies that now promote livelihood, not just act as temporary band-aid.  Shawcross visits many conflict zones including Sierra Leone where the economy has been greatly linked to outside commercial interests: "Lebanese traders & merchants seduced, corrupted & controlled almost all commerce in the country." In Zaire he observes "the dark stain of atrocity spreading hidden beneath the jungle canopy...a story as involving genocidal attacks against refugees (from Rwanda) some of whom were guilty of genocide themselves; Western businessmen with mobile telephones & an intense desire to follow the victors & fix new contracts for exploiting Zaire's diamond & copper mines." (see also : here)
5.  "HERDING CATS:  MULTIPARTY MEDIATION IN A COMPLEX WORLD" edited by Chester Crocker, FO Hampson & Pamela Aall (1999 WashDC:  US Institute of Peace Press,  ISBN 1 878379 93 3)  includes 25 essays exploring ways mediation can resolve conflict, drawing on most recent experiences, e.g. El Salvador, Angola, the West Bank, Bosnia, Tajikistan & other large crises.  R. Solomon, for example, explains how Cambodia's peace accord finally saw progress when the discussions were kicked up to the UN Security Council, where the Soviet Union, China & US could reconcile themselves & end their war by proxy in SE Asia.  This unsurpassed text brings real examples to comparisons of approaches to multiparty mediation, focusing on timing & third parties.(see also : here)
6.  THE COLLAPSE OF GLOBAL PUBLIC HEALTH, IN "BETRAYAL OF TRUST: by Laurie Garrett (2000, NY: Hyperion), builds on Garret's earlier "The Coming Plague," this time telling blow-by-blow the story of recent infectious disease crises, including Russia, Ebola in Zaire, plague in India (1994).  Garrett argues passionately that govts have forgotten the lessons of how public health (& population preventive action) changed the world's health situation over the centuries; she calls for renewed attention to the "basic factors essential to population health: clear water, plentiful food; housing; waste  disposal; social & medical control of epidemics; widespread, universal access to maternal & child health care; & a health care system."   Garrett observes that the World Bank has become the biggest funder of public health in the world.  Garrett concludes with the prediction shared with many experts that within a few decades, "viruses, bacteria & fungi will have evolved complete resistance to the human pharmaceutical arsenal."
7.   - CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL'S "HOTSPOTS - Earth's Biologically Richest & Most Endangered Terrestrial Ecoregions" (2000, Cemex), filled with large, fabulous photographs of regions with high levels of endangered species, such as Brazil's Cerrado, Central Chile, Western Ghats & Sri Lanka, the Mts. of South-Central China, western Ecuador, & the Caucasus  Conservation Intl. (CI) melds imagery, data, & basic explanation (for the novice) with a strategic action plan for identifying & protecting flagship species in priority regions.  The Caribbean, the  Philippines & Madagascar rank the highest priority of hotspots, based on total plant & vertebrate diversity & endemism. Describes some remaining areas of high life as 'holocene refugia: remnant islands of natural vegetation that manage to persist in an ocean of human-dominated landscapes."  CI argues that too many contributions toward biodiversity have been frittered away, spent on the programs that do not have much protection effect.  Taken overall, the text warns of a coming biological holocaust: "we know from the 5 great mass extinction episodes of the prehistoric past... that it will take at least 5M years & possibly much longer to repair the damage...If we don't do enough to prevent this mass extinction... & let several million species disappear from the face of the Earth, this will be far & away the biggest decision ever made by one generation for future generations...we will be regarded as perhaps the most irresponsible generation in the history of the planet."
8.   - "REALIZING HUMAN RIGHTS:  MOVING FROM INSPIRATION TO IMPACT" edited by Samantha Power & Graham Allison (1997 NY: St. Martin's Press  ISBN: 0-312-23494-5) focuses on action to implement human rights principles, whether through regional regimes, intl courts or NGOs.  Judge Goldstone concludes that, for war crimes, "national trials are preferred"  although intl tribunals may be preferable under certain circumstances & depending on the gravity of crime.  Authors give case studies, including the evolution of women's rights in Pakistan.   Kenneth Roth (of Human Rights Watch) writes "No longer can governments claim to be the sole judge of their human rights record; rights are now understood to permit independent security of government conduct," & points to the pivotal roles of human rights NGOs in practical causes, including the ban on landmines & the intl. criminal court.  Mort Halperin contrasts NGOs according to the human rights battles they pick (for some, immediate issues, such as opposing torture; for others,  promoting democracy). Aryeh Neier writes of the symbolic benefit of sanctions  "their effect on the intl. standing of target countries, their demonstration of support for local human rights victims & activists, & their importance in calling attention to abuses, are benefits that may considerably outweigh their actual economic consequences."  The editors observe that in this age almost all govts seek at least to be seen to respect human rights; & that now human rights now are seen to apply to all individuals, not just political elites.
9.  DAVE ABERNETHY'S "THE DYNAMICS OF GLOBAL DOMINANCE, European Overseas Empires, 1415-1980"   (2000  Yale Univ Press, ISBN 300 07304-6) develops a model of 5 phases of global colonization (expansion) & decolonization (contraction), synthesizing causes & effects across continents & time.  He describes root causes that account for when independence movements reached maturity, often after wars between empires, & secondarily after independence efforts in neighboring lands (via a 'demonstration effect.').  For example, "Independence for the United states & India had far-reaching observation effects, emboldening people elsewhere to act once they could point to real examples of political change."  In the 20th century, "defenders of overseas empires were placed ideologically & morally on the defensive.  As each new state entered the United Nations, the organization became a forum for anti-colonial lobbying...It hastened the Dutch departure from Indonesia," (for example).  Abernethy cautions against treating colonialism as a singular event, but summarizes its benefits and costs,  including, "the translatlantic slave trade, plantation slavery, forced labor, sexual exploitation - should not be forgotten or excused.  The forests of the Amazon & Congo basins were killing fields, as were the Banda islands & Tasmania & lands inhabited by Araucanians, Pequots & Hereros. "
10. "TRADITIONAL CURES FOR MODERN CONFLICTS: AFRICAN CONFLICT MEDICINE" edited by William Zartman (2000, Boulder:  Lynne Rienner Pub, ISBN 1 55587 876 8) compiles & analyzes mechanisms used by different Africa societies (e.g., Xhoso in S. Africa, Oromo of Ethiopia, Dinka of Sudan, the Igbo & Fulani of W Africa) to prevent disputes from escalating, adjudicate land disputes, float grievances, promote dialogue & end wars, including techniques such as rhetoric, ritual affirmation, diplomacy, resort to clan assemblies, truth commissions & traditional law.  A rich, wide-ranging survey.

ALSO OF NOTE DURING LAST YEAR:

- Intl. Peace Academy's "Greed & Grievance - Economic Agendas in Civil Wars" , a brilliant anthology that looks at informal markets, cross- border trade, shadow states, rebels' incentives for violence, & a brilliant essay by Tom Farer on Intl. Criminal Law.
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Rich as reference, "Human Rights Watch World Report 2001, Events of Nov. 1999 to Oct. 2000  (London & Brussels, NY, ISBN 1 56432 254 8) includes country summaries & thematic sections on refugees, landmines, academic rights, gay & women's rights.
- New editions of important anthologies:  "
Preventive Diplomacy:  Stopping Wars Before They Start" (2000 NY: Routledge ISBN 415 92284-4) in which nineteen authors write about early warning, public health, impartiality, sovereignty, sanctions & preventive journalism;  also Barry Levy & Vic Sidel's "War & Public Health" (2000 American Public Health Association);  also - E Enarson & BH Morrow's  "The Gendered Terrain of Disaster:  Through Women's Eyes"  (Miami, Fl: Lab for Social & Behavioral Res.)
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Anthony Lloyd's "My War Gone By, I Miss it So" (1999  NY: Atlantic Monthly Press), front-line journalism from Bosnia & Chechnya, with Lloyd's extremely honest & original insights into the dark side people in war, the numbing effects, & moral outrage.
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Finally, Hernando de Soto's "The Mystery of Capital"  (2000  NY: Basic Books) builds on his practical economic insights (from Peru) on how informal economies function, to show how codified, clear, tradable & protected individual property rights (e.g. in the American west) were pivotal in unleashing entrepreneurial action (via mortgage borrowing) that accelerated economic growth.

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Jan 26 2001
The Humanitarian Times
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