Report of a conference organised by ODI, POLIS at the University of Leeds and CAFOD in London, 1 February 2001. Humanitarian assistance has always been a highly political activity. It has always influenced the political economy of recipient countries, and has always been influenced by the political considerations of donor governments. Despite the pronouncements and practices of humanitarian actors seeking to ensure that their actions confer no military advantage, and are driven solely on the basis of need, the humanitarian principles of neutrality and impartiality are under constant assault. Stark differences between the amount and type of humanitarian assistance given to various countries facing acute crises show that humanitarian aid has never been disbursed solely on the basis of need.