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The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? Paperback – August 30, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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

“A reporting tour de force, devastating.” ―The Sunday Times (London)

“Marvelous, cool, brusque, fearless.” ―The Guardian (London)

“Ms. Polman's prose is scorching.” ―The Economist

“A disturbing account…Raises profound questions not just about the palliative efficacy of aid, but whether it fuels and prolongs conflict.” ―Financial Times

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

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (August 30, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312610580
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312610586
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #454,354 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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.

2.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having been involved in international child welfare aid efforts as an independent citizen, consultant, contractor, and a private donor, I found this book very enlightening and sad. While the author may have focused on the negative ends only, I know first hand that her main themes are not too far off the mark. I have not directly witnessed aid organizations and consultants do harm, but even in the non-crisis setting, I have seen arrogance and ignorance and massive waste of resources (including resources wasted on consultants like myself, either putting them to the wrong use, or putting the wrong consultants to use.)

As insightful and sharp as the author is in pointing out everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong -- I really hoped that the author might point a way forward beyond "let us start asking the tough questions". We ought to, of course. But for the many donors and well-intentioned aid workers, asking questions without a glimmer of hope can be paralyzing. As a private person, I found myself doubting my monthly donations to Doctors without Borders, Oxfam, and a number of other aid organizations. I found myself pessimistic about the future of my self-initiated aid work (though not giving up). Does the stinging critique offered by this book exposes all the wrong paths so we renew our commitment to find a good one ... or does it remove all visible paths so that there does not even appear to be one?

There are two other books, one old and one new, that had offered some "the way forward" ideas. Both are coming from the Christian perspective and may not necessarily suit everyone. But they are at least examples of critiques moving into solutions (and these solutions are not easy).

When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty without Hurting the Poor ...
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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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