Skip to main content
book

People First

Leading the UN's Humanitarian Response in Dire Times

By Mark Lowcock
Cvr: People First

People First is Mark Lowcock’s behind-the-scenes account of his experience as the world’s most senior humanitarian official—the UN Relief Chief. In his four years on the job, Lowcock coordinated the work of UN agencies, the Red Cross, and countless national and international humanitarian groups to save lives and protect the most vulnerable.

Appointed in 2017, Lowcock was witness to the biggest explosion in humanitarian need in modern history. Wars, droughts, floods, storms, earthquakes, volcanoes, and then the COVID-19 global pandemic put humanitarian agencies under unprecedented strain. Long-standing crises like those in Syria, Yemen, and the Sahel got worse. New ones arose, in Ethiopia, Mozambique, Venezuela, and elsewhere. Over his tenure, Lowcock raised record amounts of money to tackle these problems, but this was not enough to prevent humanitarian agencies from being overwhelmed by the emergencies they were asked to deal with, as Lowcock documents from a personal, inside perspective.

Part memoir and part manifesto for reform, People First depicts the brutality, misery and inhumanity inflicted on innocent people in crises. Lowcock recounts what people he met in dozens of countries—especially women and children—shared with him about their plight and the help they needed. He warns that crises will continue to get worse without a renewed global effort to tackle their causes. But People First is also an uplifting story of lives saved and suffering reduced, and a detailed, practical agenda for solving crises faster and better in the future.

Get daily updates from Brookings