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During the 1980s, armed conflict devastated an increasing number of the world’s poorest countries. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in relief and development were hard-pressed to determine their most effective response to situations where normal development became meaningless, and yet short-term relief programmes failed to deal with ‘permanent emergencies. This article describes the nature of these conflicts, their impact on the poor, and the evolution of NGO programmes in response. It explains why some NGOs have attempted to do development in the face of on-going violence, sometimes employing risky strategies and desperate measures. It argues the need for NGOs to play a part in building a civil society which can help to break the cycle of violence.

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