Humanitarian aid has long been dominated by a paradigm that was rooted in exceptionalism, grounded in the ethics of the humanitarian principles, and centred on international humanitarian United Nations (UN) agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
In recent years this ‘classical Dunantist paradigm’ has been paralleled and partly overtaken by a radically different paradigm, which can be called the ‘resilience paradigm’. Whereas the classical paradigm centres on principled aid, the resilience paradigm foregrounds building on local response capacities. Both paradigms have a strong logic that dictates a specific way of seeing the nature of crisis, the subsequent scope of the humanitarian response, the identity of humanitarian actors, and the nature of institutions and people in crisis-affected areas. They result in different bodies of practice, which can be labelled ‘classical humanitarianism’ and ‘resilience humanitarianism’.
This chapter will unravel the two aid paradigms. Although they are often loosely used and intermingled in practice, the chapter maintains that many issues and dilemmas in humanitarian action today are related to inconsistencies in the different approaches that humanitarian aid has adopted.