1st Edition

The Selfish Altruist Relief Work in Famine and War

By Tony Vaux Copyright 2001
    240 Pages
    by Routledge

    Continue Shopping

    Provides an analysis of some of the most traumatic situations involving famine and war of the last two decades, helping us to understand what it takes to be an aid worker and how important humanitarian action is today. Famine and war evoke strong emotional reactions, and for most people there is a limited amount they can do. But the relief worker has to convert emotional responses into practical action and difficult choices - whom to help and how. Their own feelings have to motivate action for others. But can they separate out their own selfish feelings and prejudices in such an emotive climate? How do they avoid being partial among those they are helping? Are they motivated by altruistic concern, or the power they experience or the attention they receive? Tony Vaux brings over 20 years experience as one of Oxfam's leading emergency managers to the exploration of the conflicts between subjective impulses and objective judgements and the dilemmas relief workers contend with.

    Foreword by Jean Dreze * Introduction * Kosovo: The Loss of Impartiality * Ethiopia: A Golden Age of Humanitarianism? * Sudan: Impartiality and Self-respect * Mozambique: Vulnerability and Power * Afghanistan: Pride and Principle * Somalia: Emotion and Order * Azerbaijan and Bosnia: Responsibility and Rights * The Rwanda Genocide: Man's Inhumanity * The Selfish Altruist * Notes on the Sources * Index


    After studying English at Oxford, Tony Vaux worked with Oxfam GB from 1972 until 1999. He spent nearly seven years in India developing Oxfam's work with community based projects. From 1984 he was coordinator of Oxfam's global emergency programmes, and became particularly closely involved with Ethiopia, Sudan, Mozambique and Somalia � all of which feature as chapters in this book. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, he turned to Eastern Europe and the Caucasus region, building up new Oxfam programmes in response to conflict and poverty. Since writing this book on a sabbatical year in 1999-2000, he has been working as an independent consultant, focusing on areas of conflict.

    'This is an absorbing book.' Daniel Wolf, writer and producer, The Hunger Business, Channel 4 'Highly informative, often provocative.' Development Policy Review 'A searching self-examination by someone who has been on the front lines of emergency responses.' James Boyce, Department of Economics, University of Massachusetts 'Vaux's book is as much an examination of himself as of the agency and industry he worked for.' The Healthy Exchange '[Tony Vaux] discusses very difficult and emotional topics with wonderful clarity and courage.' Oxfam 'The Selfish Altruist highlights the key issues and quandaries that relief staff and policy makers have grappled with over the past 15 years. As someone with personal experience of a wide range of emergency situations, Tony Vaux has not shied away from confronting some awkward truths.' Will Day, director, CARE International 'Most original is the clarity of thought that helps us to understand what it takes to be an aid worker.' The Ecologist 'The book is a 'must' not only for enthusiasts and critics of humanitarian aid, but also for those ambivalent towards it. Whatever the reader's point of view, it is bound to be questioned.' Development Policy Review 'Vaux's work has thrown open questions for discussion.' International Sociology 'This book surveys the emotional well-springs behind the doing of relief work and suggests that they are not determined by our cultural or biological heritage.' Aslib Book Guide 'The strength of the book lies in Vaux's passion and the breadth of his experience which enable him to explore with great insight the urgent developmental questions.' Methodist Recorder