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The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? First Edition Edition
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—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.
More About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
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.
2.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is literally giving me nightmares. It's a disturbing eye opener, which explains the ugly truth of the international aid industry, written in a composed and factual... Read morePublished 18 days ago by edsetiadi
If you are interested in humanitarian work this is a must read!Published 10 months ago by Michelle Dragoo
Provocative and thoughtful. Provides insightful questions to ask regarding the ultimate outcomes of humanitarian aide....especially in war zones. Read morePublished 13 months ago by B. Bunn
Anytime someone I know mentions wanting to go into charity work, donating to an overseas cause, or is interested in cross cultural topics, I recommend this book. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Melissa Ann Conroy
This was an excellent book! Great information on the topic. Got for a graduate course that I withdrew from but ended up reading it on my own afterwords. Well worth it! Read morePublished on November 12, 2013 by Ima Good Student
Linda Polman is an experienced journalist in humanitarian zones. This book illustrates how the best intentions go astray. Highly recommendePublished on September 15, 2013 by Miles Wortman
I am all for charity, and spent some time, money and resources on finding and helping people who are in need. Read morePublished on April 23, 2013 by Emi
Scenes of poor people after a natural disaster, war or ethnic cleansing may pull at our hearstrings and we feel compelled to donate to NGOs to help these people. Read morePublished on February 24, 2013 by The g Factor
Some clear and punchy points are made in this book. A good read overall and it's nice to read a book that provides a different perspective over the efficacy of first-phase... Read morePublished on November 13, 2012 by NS