Dismantling the Department of Humanitarian Affairs (DHA) and replacing it with the Office of the Emergency Relief Coordinator headed the list of the most disappointing aspects of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's
reform package in mid-1997. The author explores the history of the DHA, its record, and the institutional politics behind the cosmetic adaptation of diplomatic and coordination machinery that displaced more serious rethinking or restructuring of humanitarian action. There are operational and political implications for blue helmets, be they more traditional peace-keepers or more robust peace-enforcers. The central challenge for peace operations and humanitarian action remains: how to get the various units of the so-called UN family, along with a host of recently adopted NGO subcontractors, to function more effectively as a system rather than as a loose collection of independent actors with separate mandates, budgets, priorities and programmes.