Everyday practices of humanitarian aid: tsunami response in Sri Lanka

This paper underlines the importance of grounding the analysis of humanitarian aid in an understanding of everyday practice by presenting and discussing ethnographic vignettes about three aspects of aid response in Sri Lanka following the 2004 Tsunami. The first deals with the nature of humanitarian actors, the second explores how different kinds of politics intertwine, and the third discusses the issue of humanitarian partnerships. Each vignette points to the need for detailed analysis of everyday practice as the starting point for understanding humanitarian aid. This would require a shift in current academic approaches, where discussions on humanitarian aid usually start from the level of principles rather than practice. It is argued that accounts of the everyday practices and dilemmas faced by NGOs help to counterbalance blind expectations, expose uncritical admiration, and put unrealistic critiques into perspective.