Humanitarianism is defined as the act of improving the welfare and happiness of people in relation to saving lives and alleviating the suffering of people who have been caught in or displaced by man-made and natural disasters and warfare.  It also involves helping communities to prevent and/ or to make vigorous preparations for potential calamitous situations. Increasingly, humanitarian functions have been expanded to include bringing to task the perpetrators of criminal acts that cause harm and create adversity for large segments of a nation’s population.

According to the United Nations General Assembly’s humanitarian standards and guidelines, humanitarian organisations should be established based on the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. There are many international and local organisations that have been formed with the shared aim to mitigate human sufferings caused by impoverished health conditions, penurious economic circumstances and social disorder.

This guide provides recommended resources on the topic of humanitarianism that are available from NLB as well as on the Internet. As the guide is not intended to be comprehensive, interested readers should search the NLB catalogue or the Internet for more resources.

Search Terms Call Number
Humanitarianism; social action 303.4; 361.26; 361.370954; 361.6095; 361.74
International relief 361.26; 361.75; 362.1
Philanthropy 361.37; 361.7; 361.709; 361.74; 361.76092



(listed in alphabetical order)

  • Abramowitz, S. & Panter-Brick, C. (2015). Medical humanitarianism: Ethnographies of practice. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. Available from DeGruyter Publishing ebook collection.
    Through 12 case studies of humanitarian practice, the authors offer deep insights in to the real-life experiences of humanitarian workers, medical doctors and human rights volunteers in war-torn and poverty-stricken regions in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti, Iraq, Niger, Darfur, Uganda, Somalia, Ghana, Liberia and Sierra Leone.


  • Barnett, M. & Stein, J. G. (2012). Sacred aid: Faith and humanitarianism. New York: Oxford University Press. Available from ebooks on Ebscohost.
    This book traces the origins of the global humanitarian movement to the early nineteenth century. Although the early focus on religious conversions evolved towards secular concerns in the twentieth century such as on human rights and human welfare, religious inspired humanitarian movements were revived in the 1980s and continue to form a sizeable proportion of contemporary humanitarianism today.


  • Bornstein, E. (2012). Disquieting gifts: Humanitarianism in New Dehli. Palo Alto, California: Stanford University Press. Available from ebooks on Ebscohost.
    Bornstein explores the motivations of people who participate in philanthropic work by examining selected humanitarian projects in New Delhi and highlights the ethical and political challenges encountered.


  • Christopher, M. & Tatham, P. (Eds.). (2011). Humanitarian logistics: Meeting the challenge of preparing for and responding to disasters. London: Kogan Page. Available from NLB Overdrive.
    The issue of pre-disaster logistics preparations and the key issues of warehousing, procurement and funding are examined in this book, which details the challenges of organising and distributing resources in hot zones around the world.


  • Fassin, D. (2012). Humanitarian reason: A moral history of the present. Berkeley: University of California Press. Available from ebooks on Ebscohost.
    Using case studies from France, South Africa, Venezuela and Palestine, Fassin presents a sociological analaysis of humanitarianism where political discourse has replaced the ethics of compassion in addressing the concerns and wellbeing of the marginalized, the poor, AIDs sufferers, disaster victims, immigrants and asylum seekers.


  • Fast, L. (2014). Aid in danger: The perils and promise of humanitarianism. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. Available from DeGruyter Publishing ebook collection.
    Fast highlights the dangers that humanitarian aid workers and agencies around the world face, which include bodily injury, kidnapping and death. She examines the causes of these dangers and the consequences of the safety programmes implemented by aid organisations to counter these perilous threats.


  • Jenkins, S. (2015). Mission accomplished? New York: I.B.Tauris. Available from ebrary.
    Jenkins analyses and critiques the flawed military interventions by the UK and US in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and questions the justification of liberal interventionism.


  • Kennedy, D. (2011). The dark sides of virtue: Reassessing international humanitarianism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Available from DeGruyter Publishing ebook collection.
    Kennedy discusses the problems that arise when humanitarian objectives and ideals are turned into human rights projects to address global trade, violence and sufferings in war zones. He highlights some of the mistakes and misunderstandings that result from good intentions, such as focusing too heavily on rules and regulations and eschewing the actual measurable outcomes.


  • Kidder, T. (2003). Mountains beyond mountains: The quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a man who would cure the world. New York: Random House Publishing Group. Available from NLB Overdrive.
    Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winning writer, tells the inspiring story of Dr Paul Farmer, an infectious-disease specialist from Massachusetts, USA, who has made it his life mission to diagnose and treat infectious diseases. He also successfully pioneered a treatment method for tuberculosis in Haiti as well as established Zanmi Lasante, a non-government health organisation to look after the wellbeing of farmers in Haiti.


  • Mills, K. (2015). International responses to mass atrocities in Africa: Responsibility to protect, prosecute and palliate. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press. Available from ebrary.
    Mills examines international responses to crimes against humanity from three areas of responsibility: to prosecute the perpetrators of the criminal acts, to protect those who have been victimized and to provide aid relief to the oppressed.


  • Rasley, J. (2012). Bringing progress to paradise: What I got from giving to a village in Nepal. Newburyport, Massachusetts: Red Wheel Weiser Conari. Available from NLB Overdrive.
    Rasley describes his life-changing experience in 2008 of leading a trek to a remote valley in Nepal and staying on to help complete the building of a school and in getting help to bring electricity to the village.


  • Smirl, L. (2015). Space of aid: How cars, compounds and hotels shape humanitariansim. London: Zed Books. Available from ebrary.
    This book draws a sharp contrast between the comfortable living conditions that aid workers enjoy against the much poorer and degraded conditions of their beneficiaries. It includes discussions on two prominent case studies – the Ache Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina to illustrate the sizeable gulf that sometimes exists between aid workers and the community they strive to help.


  • VanRooyen, M. (2016). The world’s emergency room: The growing threat to doctors, nurses, and humanitarian workers. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Available from NLB Overdrive.
    Director of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative and professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health, VanRooyen shares his candid experiences of having served as an emergency physician in conflict and disaster zones across more than thirty countries, including Somalia, Sudan, Bosnia and Rwanda.


  • Weiss, T. G. (2016). Humanitarian intervention. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley. Available from NLB Overdrive.
    Weiss discusses the concept of humanitarianism through the use of military force for the protection of lives. He highlights the moral and ethical dilemmas that result from foreign interventionist acts and the failures and political fallouts from humanitarian aid efforts rendered in Rawanda, Dar Fur and Sri Lanka.



(listed in alphabetical order)

  • Coyne, C. J. (2013). Doing bad by doing good: Why humanitarian action fails. Stanford, California: Stanford Economics and Finance, an imprint of Stanford University Press.
    Using the Haiti earthquake rescue example and other international interventions as case studies, Coyne examines why humanitarian efforts fail or worse, cause more harm than assuage the ordeal of disaster victims.



  • Zwitter, A., Lamont, C. K., Heintze, H. & Herman, J. (Eds.). (2015). Humanitarian action: Global, regional and domestic legal responses. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
    The collection of essays in this volume discusses the legal problems surrounding contemporary humanitarianism practice, which straddles international politics and trans-national legal frameworks.



(listed in alphabetical order)

  • Chandaran, R. et al. (Eds.). (2013). Humanitarianism in the network age including world humanitarian data and trends 2012. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs website:
    This report highlights humanitarian organisations which are revamping the way they are deliver aid relief and the challenges they face in an environment with increasingly global connectivity. 2011 country data on humanitarian needs and responses and trends on appeals, disasters, refugees, funding and prevention are covered in the second half of the report.


  • Development Initiatives Ltd. (2016). Global humanitarian assistance report 2016. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from Development Initiatives website:
    This report provides a comprehensive overview of the global humanitarian assistance landscape, detailing the profiles of people affected by poverty, conflicts and disasters, donors, financing scenarios, case studies of humanitarian interventions, aid delivery modes and the effectiveness of humanitarian programmes and initiatives.


  • United Nations. (n.d.). Deliver humanitarian aid. Retrieved September 10, 2017, from United Nations website:
    One of the functions of the United Nations (UN) is to coordinate global efforts to help resolve economic, social, cultural and humanitarian problems around the world. Towards this end, UN has established several organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency and programmes such as the World Food Programme to coordinate fast response to support and provide relief assistance to people displaced by natural disasters and armed conflict.


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iii. Write down the Location Code and the Call Number of the item. This helps you to locate the item within Lee Kong Chian Reference Library. Please refer to the table below for more information (Note: Please feel free to approach the counter staff for help in locating the books.)

All featured books and periodicals are located at the Lee Kong Chian Reference Library.

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Sharon Teng


The information in this resource guide is valid as at September 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history on the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2017.

Written by Sharon Teng