The Dilemmas of Humanitarian Aid The author of “The Crisis Caravan”, Linda Polman is a Dutch journalist with personal experience with war zone charities since 1993; she has firsthand accounts in Haiti, Somalia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, and numerous others. Her novel “The Crisis Caravan” is the consequence of her and others experiences and gives an uncompromising view of the contradictions of the humanitarian industry, and the results of money raisers, like the United States, neither being held accountable to lenders nor the voters they promised.The author situates her perspective on humanitarian aid by positioning herself in-between an old debate between Florence Nightingale and Henri Dunant.
Dunant was the founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), his stance was that aid was a presumed duty. Polman associates her view with the opposite arguments of Florence Nightingale. Nightingale assisted in the Crimean War by helping wounded soldiers and concluded through her experiences that the work she was providing was only making it easier for countries to start and pursue war.Nightingale began to argue against aid organizations, especially the ICRC.
“Dunant wrote [to Nightingale] to try to convince her that his initiative was crucial. He agreed that war ministries bore primary responsibility for the care of their own sick and wounded, but even in the best organized armies such care was inadequate. Nightingale answered, if the present Regulations are not sufficient to provide for the wounded they should be made so” (Polman, p. 7).This creates the basis for debate on humanitarian aid.
Nightingale’s stance, as well as Polman’s is humanitarian relief was not available then countries would have to take more responsibility for their soldiers and their casualties, and understand all the expenses and sacrifices that come with choosing war. Polman, similar to Nightingale believes that countries no longer sense how significant the decision to go to war is because humanitarian relief has become a staple across the globe.According to Linda Polman $120 billion is made available a year from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for disaster and refugee aid. Approximately 37,000 International aid organizations each year have to compete for a share of this funding.
“The Crisis Caravan” immediately alerts readers that there are serious problems in the aid industry, beginning with the constant error of duplicating effort and expenses, which creates excessive spending with minimal progress. The author proceeds to explain that inflated statistics of success cause an exaggeration of accomplishment.Other problems aid organizations face are soldiers demanding money for everything an organization brings in, including food and medicine for victims, and taking a sum of donated supplies. Soldiers use some of these supplies for their benefit but Linda Polman explains that much of theses supplies are sold for more arms.
Therefore, aid representatives, as well as the rest of the world, start to wonder whether humanitarian aid is doing more harm than good. Unfortunately, the United States plays a role in this problem, mostly because they are the leading humanitarian aid funder in the world.Politicians contribute to this problem by making promises of aid but are more concerned with publicity, public support, and donations that are tied into making those promises rather than the aid itself. “The Crisis Caravan” states that a few INGO’s attempt to challenge humanitarian aid abuses. However, the International Committee of the Red Cross estimates every major disaster attracts, on average, about 1,000 aid organizations and with the estimated 37,000 organizations across the globe, there is always a rival donor willing to fill the void. Phantom” aid is another big problem – this occurs where money never leaves the donor nation, instead is used for lobbying, recruiting expert consultants, and soliciting. Polman believes rebuilding Iraq could have been better accomplished for 90% less money by using local sources.
Sending foreigners to the site adds expensive and longer accommodation and provisions. The World Bank is another problem – its requiring ending subsidies, cutting government employment usually make the situation worse. “The Crisis Caravan” does an expert undertaking of dissecting the area that need funding in when starting aid projects.The author clarifies that the start-up costs for projects in recently crisis-hit countries are high, because they include recruiting and hiring local staff, renting housing and office space, bringing in materials and equipment (vehicles, supplies, computers, air-conditioning, generators, satellite dishes).
Unfortunately, contracts are typically awarded to the best proposals, not necessary the best projects. Polman states, “The importance of aid organizations having access to a good proposal writer. The cost of a Land Cruiser is about what would be required to build an rphanage; a tank of gas costs about what is required for a year’s operations. Unwanted gifts frequently become a problem. ” Linda Polman does a good job at focusing on heartfelt locations that the readers cannot help but grow disgust for the chaotic conditions. The primary continent being Africa – civil wars in Algeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and numerous others within the continent .
Then there was the starvation in Ethiopia and then Namibia. In Namibia local merchants knew the harvest was down 11%, they bought the entire harvest for $7. 0 a sack, and when the country felt the effects of the decline in harvest they spiraled into starvation, the merchants waited for aid organizations to arrive and sold the harvest to them for $53.
00 or more a sack. This was one of the lighter examples of exploitations of aid organizations. Warlords, and businesses are starting to understand the holes in humanitarian aid, enough in which they can take advantage for a profit. According to Polman at least $1 trillion dollars in aid has been funded to Africa in the past 60 years, and yet, Africa’s income per-capita has actually declined.The author’s main focus being again, how much benefit do aid organizations bring? Polman goes into detail about problems with routing money to countries and gives Saddam Hussein and Iraq as an interesting example. Saddam Hussein in 1992 reportedly gained about $250 million in aid funding by forcing aid dollars to be exchanged into Iraqi currency. As the despot of Iraq, Hussein was able to set the exchange rate. As a result, Polman states that Kabul rents are higher than those in N.
Y. C. and much of the landlords profit is often used to fund militias or train Taliban. The Crisis Caravan” also explains that 30% of Afghanistan’s aid is estimated to end up in Taliban hands. “The Crisis Caravan” has countless jaw dropping statistics and her bibliography was placed in extensive detail on the last two pages of the novel, the author falling point however, is not using footnotes. Without any footnotes to go off, the reader has no choice to become skeptical of her sources, although listed, the reader is not able to tell if a fact came from the first or last book that was sourced. To avoid much skepticism and to make this book a more serious read Linda Polman needed to cite her sources better.The other drawback was her personal stories, her tales around Africa did give her the grounding for experience and credentials, but the tales were also drawn out, and in a personal view, possibly embellished over the years.
Since this book is generally new, the reviews on this book were mediocre at best. The best review I found was by Richard Gowen an associate director at the New York University for International Cooperation, who wrote a strong article that helped to examine “The Crisis Caravan”. The big question Gowen asks about Polman’s novel is with all her criticism of the humanitarian industry…what honestly is the alternative?Polman wants us to think about the fact that maybe doing nothing is less damaging than taking action, but eliminating all humanitarian relief is a large process itself.
Gowen and Polman both agree, Humanitarian aid is an industry now, which employs about 250,000 people. “The Crisis Caravan” does a great job of pointing out an overwhelming amount of flaws in the current system but has no answers on how to fix them. What I don’t believe Polman takes into consideration is what these countries might look like without any aid at all.Although humanitarianism is not as progressive as it should, to just isolate the continent of Africa with the mentality of “fend for yourself” would completely devastate the area. The only vague answer I could find from Polman was in an interview on The Daily Show, John Stewart asked Polman what she thought the solution to humanitarian aid would be.
Her only answer being that aid reliefs and funding countries needed to unify and work together on projects instead of all working on numerous different projects and not communicating.Such an ideal perspective, but obviously unclear, Polman just undermines the complexities of trying to unify all humanitarian organizations. Gowen and I both agree that the “The Crisis Caravan” gives a sense of being outdated. The world has altered from 1993 and I don’t believe that Polman takes this into account.
Gowen opened my eyes to the perspective of how global shift can be influential on humanitarian aid. “In 2009, the Sri Lankan government barred aid to civilians during in its campaign to crush the Tamil Tigers.There have been warnings that other governments facing internal resistance, will follow the same path – in part because they are increasingly unconcerned by criticism from western governments and NGOs as power shifts to China and India (Gowen, 2010, p.
2)” This was not a view I had thought of, however it is a weakness on Polman’s part. In many scenarios the author doesn’t take into account the global changes from the 1990’s. Polman denounces many of the western countries interventions in the world, and doesn’t really understand why they cannot create more progress. What she is ot taking into account is the constant political change. That not all countries will support a humanitarian relief and in the past have back warlords, or corrupt governments. An example of this is China’s support President Omar al Bashir of Darfur, which constantly prevents humanitarian relief from entering the country. Overall, while the west is funding humanitarian relief to countries like Sri Lanka, the western political power are not threatening enough, with the rise of other countries like China, to make countries fold to their wants, and also, state sovereignty can be a complicated interference.
In Polman’s perspective however, she doesn’t seem to understand the western world , especially the United States, are having to balance their powers with other countries like China in present day. With this change in power, creates changes in humanitarian view among countries. Polman book is depicted to be outdated again because she never takes into full account the types of war fought to day and how that could challenge the dynamic of humanitarian aid. However, I don’t believe that those in support of humanitarian aid truly take the current war into perspective either.The majority of wars in the world today are civil wars, and are no longer country vs. country. The reason this is important, is because the one think Nightingale and Dunant agreed upon was that a country was the primary source for care giving.
The question I must ask though is, who becomes the primary aid giver when the majority of wars fought today are not between countries? The intention of humanitarian aid was never to become the main source of relief. However, in the twenty first century most wars that are fought today are civil wars that can involve ethnic groups, rebels, terrorist etcetera.These types of wars do not have country governments to be the primary funders of humanitarian aid and these wars leave not only “soldier” wounded anymore, but mostly innocent civilians. I do not believe that neither side of the argument predicted these kinds of wars.
Since the twenty first century has introduced a new kind of war, I believe that humanitarian aid has evolved into the industry that it is, because so many countries have become dependent upon it. However, with this evolution the humanitarian aids new and complex dysfunctions followed.