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The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? Hardcover – September 14, 2010

25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Particularly timely just now… Polman finds moral hazard on display wherever aid workers are deployed. In case after case, a persuasive argument can be made that, over-all, humanitarian aid did as much or even more harm than good… Her style is brusque, hard-boiled, with a satirist’s taste for gallows humor. Her basic stance is: J’accuse.”
—Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker

About the Author

Linda Polman is an Amsterdam-based journalist who for fifteen years has reported from war zones for a range of European radio stations and newspapers. She is the author of We Did Nothing, which was shortlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage. 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Metropolitan Books; First Edition edition (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805092900
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805092905
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #621,025 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By maskirovka VINE VOICE on September 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I happened on this book by accident, but I'm very glad I did. I think one result from reading it will be that I won't be giving any money for aid in a conflict zone unless the would-be recipient NGO convinces me it has very strong controls to ensure that what I might give will not become part of the problem.

The book is a very quick and easy read. It consists of a series of chapters that talk about one particular negative phenomenon associated with foreign aid. Chapters that stand out for me include:

the one about how the victims of forced amputations in Sierra Leone have become a magnet for aid that they frequently don't need, want, or can use while other deserving souls go without

-one about how the Governments of Sudan and Ethiopia have manipulated aid organizations into subsidizing murderous campaigns against their own people

-one about how the aid community responded to the genocide in Rwanda by deluging the Hutus who had perpetrated it against the Tutsis with aid while the Tutsis went without.

The book is not perfect however. I found myself disagreeing with her on several arguments she made:

1. The US dropping food aid along with bombs in Afghanistan in 2001: The author seems to share the belief that some NGOs expressed about this that such action blurs the difference between armed forces and humanitarian groups. My rejoinder on that is that given the US was in the process of occupying Afghanistan, it had obligations under international law to take care of the population there.

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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Susan Southworth on September 20, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Only a few books over the last decade have noted adverse results of humanitarian aid. Here now is the most extensive and disturbing catalogue by a Dutch author who spent 15 years reporting from war zones for European media.

The author intends to provoke soul-searching by the "humanitarian industry" of the western world. In a long series of disturbing anecdotes, she demonstrates that humanitarian projects have increased famine and lengthened wars. Oxfam, Bob Geldorf's Band Aid, Bill and Melinda Gates, Madeline Albright, the International Red Cross--no one escapes this book's indictment. Anonymous aid workers are derided for living in a style unimaginable to the local population with Land Cruisers, drivers, interpreters, expensive meals and exploitation of children. "Wherever aid workers go, prostitution instantly soars." Journalists come off no better, depicted as co-conspirators overeager to glorify and propagandize the aid effort, while averting their eyes from deleterious effects.

Equally frank is the "Aidspeak" chapter in the appendix. While the book is primarily focused on Africa, this section explains why those of us concerned with the 1999 Kosovo war observed the KLA coercing Albanians to leave Kosovo. Refugees must be outside their home countries to command major international aid. Of course, there were other tactical and propaganda reasons as well. And that is the shocking story this book details--the unintended but crucial assistance by humanitarian organizations that helps violent actors achieve their goals. "If you use enough violence, aid will arrive, and if you use even more violence, even more aid will arrive."

It's not pleasant to learn how badly our efforts to help may turn out, but closing our eyes is no solution.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By George Bush HALL OF FAME on October 7, 2010
Format: Unknown Binding
Author Linda Polman is a Dutch journalist with personal experience with war zone charities since 1993, starting with Somalia, then Haiti, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and others. The "Crisis Caravan" is the outgrowth of her and others experiences involving the contradictions of providing aid in conflict areas, and the results of money raisers neither accountable to lenders nor voters.

An estimated 37,000 international aid organizations compete for shares of the $120 billion/year spent on disaster and refugee aid administered through NGOs. That early revelation in "The Crisis Caravan" immediately alerts readers that there are serious problems in the aid industry, beginning with duplication of effort and overheads, continuing with inflation of need statistics, and the likely overstatement of accomplishments. Other problems include soldiers demanding money for everything aid organizations bring in, including food and medicine for those in need, and taking part of donated supplies - both for their own use, and partly to sell to obtain money for more arms. Thus, some thoughtful aid representatives end up wondering whether they are doing more harm than good; many of their more worldly-focused focused leaders, however, are simply concerned with boosting publicity, contracts, revenues, and donations so they can continue living in lavish quarters while raking in big salaries. Unfortunately, American politicians often contribute to the problems. Attempts by a few INGOs to combat abuses are ineffectual because rival donors fill the void.
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