This article takes complex emergencies and the humanitarian response to them as its point of reference. It provides a critique of relief, development and the linking debate. Rather than being autonomous, relief is a developmental idea. However, development concepts have proven incapable of explaining permanent emergency. They also underestimate the extent of the North’s institutional accommodation with unresolved political crisis in the South. Beginning with non-mandated NGO operations, there has been a growing acknowledgement of the inevitability of working in conflict situations. Moreover, accompanying the growth in emergency spending, the number of options available to donors has increased. Aid is now integrated with the dynamics of violence to an unprecedented extent. Greater donor flexibility in the face of systemic crisis has also contributed to a weakening of the principle of collective responsibility in the North. A new political consensus and innovative ways of working with protracted crisis has also contributed to a weakening of the principle of collective responsibility in the North. A new political consensus and innovative ways of workingwith protracted crisis are required to tackle the problem of complex emergencies.