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Dangerous pity

The millions donated to Ethiopia in 1985 thanks to Live Aid were supposed to go towards relieving a natural disaster. In reality, donors became participants in a civil war. Many lives were saved, but even more may have been lost in Live Aid's unwitting support of a Stalinist-style resettlement project

By David Rieff   July 2005

Isn’t it better to do something rather than give in to despair or cynicism and do nothing? This is the reproachful question familiar to anyone who has criticised organisations that view themselves as dedicated to doing good in the world. To those UN agencies, relief organisations and development groups working in crisis zones from Afghanistan to Aceh, any “non-constructive” criticism, especially the kind that implies that it might have been better for the would-be Samaritans to refrain from acting at all, is so much nihilist piffle. Edmund Burke’s dictum that for evil to triumph all that is required is “for…

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