Do No Harm?

by David Week on 10 July 2015


I’ve always had a problem with the formulation (but not the detailed idea behind) “Do No Harm”. Great for the Greek physicians 2500 years ago, but all modern doctors indeed do harm. They cut into people. They irradiate. They prescribe drugs with known side effects. The point is to know the risks of the treatment, to watch for the negative impact, and to make informed judgments about the relative value of the benefit/harm. I think this is what real aid work is like.

So yes: take great pains to understand the risks (they are rarely certainties) of how a program might impact nascent or existing conflicts. But not simplistically “Do No Harm”.


A better term is “conflict sensitivity”.

“Do No Harm” is a slogan on top of a complex topic. The danger in the slogan is that some practitioners (who don’t have time to read and understand everything) don’t get far past the slogan, and take it literally. I’ve seen it.

See the whole discussion here:

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