Humanitarian Economics

War, Disaster and the Global Aid Market

September 2015 9781849045520 294pp


While the booming humanitarian sector faces daunting challenges, humanitarian economics emerges as a new field of study and practice, one that encompasses the economics and political economy of war, disaster, terrorism and humanitarianism.

Carbonnier’s book is the first to present humanitarian economics to a wide readership, defining its parameters, explaining its utility and convincing us why it matters. Among the issues he discusses are: how are emotions and altruism incorporated within a rational-choice framework? How do the economics of war and terrorism inform humanitarians’ negotiations with combatants, and shed light on the role of aid in conflict? What do catastrophe bonds and risk-linked securities hold for disaster response?

As more actors enter the humanitarian marketplace (including private firms), Carbonnier’s revealing portrayal is especially timely, as is his critique of the transformative power of crises.


‘Grounded in the modern realities and challenges of humanitarian action, Humanitarian Economics brings an innovative and inspiring humanitarian perspective on the political economy of aid. This book combines field practitioner experience and advanced academic expertise into an outstanding analysis of how war and disaster economics can and should inform the work of professional humanitarians. I highly recommend Gilles Carbonnier’s remarkable book.’ — Peter Maurer, President of the International Committee of the Red Cross

‘Humanitarian aid is a multibillion dollar industry whose effectiveness has quite literally life and death consequences for those touched by it. Yet humanitarian economics is a little understood field of study and practice. Gilles Carbonnier’s lucid, accessible primer provides an extremely valuable introduction to the main arguments.’ — Conor Foley, author of The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War

‘This book has long been overdue. It is a welcome first analysis of heart-wrenching humanitarian crises from a positive economic perspective. Carbonnier’s short and highly readable volume indicates how much humanitarians can and should still learn from economists—and vice versa.’ — Tilman Brück, Director, ISDC – International Security and Development Center, Berlin

‘In this first attempt at a comprehensive examination of the field of humanitarian economics, Gilles Carbonnier takes a steely-eyed look at the dark side of compassion, and skewers the ambiguous marketplace of morality. In its cost-benefit analysis of the booming kidnap and ransom industry and the inadvertent diversion of humanitarian resources into shady domains, this book’s insights are piercing.’ — Dirk Salomons, Director, Humanitarian Affairs Program, Columbia University

Humanitarian Economics combines rigorous data analysis with creative field observations, and brings the resulting insights to bear on some of the most critical human challenges of our time. This fascinating read will be of great interest to the humanitarian aid community, and to scholars across social science disciplines.’ — Edward Miguel, Oxfam Professor of Economics, University of California, Berkeley, and author of Africa’s Turn?


Gilles Carbonnier is Professor of Development Economics, the Graduate Institute, Geneva. He has over twenty years of experience in international trade, development and humanitarian action.

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