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A no-holds-barred, controversial expose of the financial profiteering and ambiguous ethics that pervade the world of humanitarian aid A vast industry has grown up around humanitarian aid: a cavalcade of organizations--some 37,000--compete for a share of the $160 billion annual prize, with "fact-inflation" sometimes ramping up disaster coverage to draw in more funds. Insurge A no-holds-barred, controversial expose of the financial profiteering and ambiguous ethics that pervade the world of humanitarian aid A vast industry has grown up around humanitarian aid: a cavalcade of organizations--some 37,000--compete for a share of the $160 billion annual prize, with "fact-inflation" sometimes ramping up disaster coverage to draw in more funds. Insurgents and warring governments, meanwhile, have made aid a permanent feature of military strategy: refugee camps serve as base camps for genocidaires, and aid supplies are diverted to feed the troops. Even as humanitarian groups continue to assert the holy principle of impartiality, they have increasingly become participants in aid's abuses. In a narrative that is impassioned, gripping, and even darkly absurd, journalist Linda Polman takes us to war zones around the globe--from the NGO-dense operations in "Afghaniscam" to the floating clinics of Texas Mercy Ships proselytizing off the shores of West Africa--to show the often compromised results of aid workers' best intentions. It is time, Polman argues, to impose ethical boundaries, to question whether doing something is always better than doing nothing, and to hold humanitarians responsible for the consequences of their deeds.


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A no-holds-barred, controversial expose of the financial profiteering and ambiguous ethics that pervade the world of humanitarian aid A vast industry has grown up around humanitarian aid: a cavalcade of organizations--some 37,000--compete for a share of the $160 billion annual prize, with "fact-inflation" sometimes ramping up disaster coverage to draw in more funds. Insurge A no-holds-barred, controversial expose of the financial profiteering and ambiguous ethics that pervade the world of humanitarian aid A vast industry has grown up around humanitarian aid: a cavalcade of organizations--some 37,000--compete for a share of the $160 billion annual prize, with "fact-inflation" sometimes ramping up disaster coverage to draw in more funds. Insurgents and warring governments, meanwhile, have made aid a permanent feature of military strategy: refugee camps serve as base camps for genocidaires, and aid supplies are diverted to feed the troops. Even as humanitarian groups continue to assert the holy principle of impartiality, they have increasingly become participants in aid's abuses. In a narrative that is impassioned, gripping, and even darkly absurd, journalist Linda Polman takes us to war zones around the globe--from the NGO-dense operations in "Afghaniscam" to the floating clinics of Texas Mercy Ships proselytizing off the shores of West Africa--to show the often compromised results of aid workers' best intentions. It is time, Polman argues, to impose ethical boundaries, to question whether doing something is always better than doing nothing, and to hold humanitarians responsible for the consequences of their deeds.

30 review for The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?

  1. 5 out of 5

    Maria

    I've read the book couple of years ago and at the time was not up to writing a review, because the stories told were so soul wrenching and because I could do absolutely nothing to change it. The other day the subject of humanitarian aid came up in a discussion and I looked again at the book. I'm giving it 5 stars not because it is brilliantly written (it's good, but there are better exposés), but because it rises the right questions. By examining numerous cases of modern humanitarian aid Polman I've read the book couple of years ago and at the time was not up to writing a review, because the stories told were so soul wrenching and because I could do absolutely nothing to change it. The other day the subject of humanitarian aid came up in a discussion and I looked again at the book. I'm giving it 5 stars not because it is brilliantly written (it's good, but there are better exposés), but because it rises the right questions. By examining numerous cases of modern humanitarian aid Polman shows the readers how the system of such aid is flowed, sometimes unprofessional, always driven by a political and economical agenda of a particular aid organisation and often enough immoral. In 19942 the Red Cross didn't disclose its knowledge of Holocaust because it feared ban on working on Nazi territory. Since then this "tragic mistake" was repeated in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Darfur. In order to operate in war zones aid organizations support war lords and governments that conduct genocide. Aid groups are not controlled or audited by anyone on quality and usefulness of their aid or their adherence to the humanitarian and ethical principles. To put it in the words of one of the belligerents in Sierra Leone that Polman meets: WAR means "Waste All Resources". Destroy everything. Then your people will come and fix it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael Gerald

    You will think twice about putting some money into those donation boxes of many aid organizations after reading this book, though some of the allegations must be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    Linda Polman challenges her audience to rethink the paradigm of international aid. Her central thesis is that, in the name of "neutrality," international humanitarian aid organizations are not only allowing atrocities to occur, but also playing a key role in the general care and feeding of the war machinery; in other words, INGOs are part of the problem. Her underlying theme - that there's no such thing as neutrality when it comes to war - is driven home in devastating and effective fashion, and Linda Polman challenges her audience to rethink the paradigm of international aid. Her central thesis is that, in the name of "neutrality," international humanitarian aid organizations are not only allowing atrocities to occur, but also playing a key role in the general care and feeding of the war machinery; in other words, INGOs are part of the problem. Her underlying theme - that there's no such thing as neutrality when it comes to war - is driven home in devastating and effective fashion, and should cause do-gooders everywhere to take a deep breath and confront the contradictions that often lie at the heart of even (especially?) the most well-meaning organizations. Polman takes no prisoners and wastes little time. From the opening argument, which illuminates the ideological differences between Florence Nightengale and Henry Dunant (whose ideas eventually set the tone for the agenda of the United Nations), it's clear that she's aiming for the big leagues. Overall, it's a scathing critique of aid and industries that such endeavors have spawned. Definitely worth a read, but a bit of a diatribe. She offers next to nothing in the way of solutions, and can't bring herself to say that international aid should end, either, so you might close the book feeling jaded and disillusioned, especially if you're young and idealistic. Thankfully, I'm not really either any more, so I found this a useful corrective to the reflexive mainstream ideas about aid.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Marta

    I can't believe it: how on Earth a book on such an important topic can be so BADLY WRITTEN?? It's one of the most chaotic books I've ever read. It's difficult to understand what the author is talking about because she jumps from one topic to another, merging some other people's dialogs, mentioning some events from the past from other countries and a hell of a lot of examples at the same time. None of them emphasized enough to point out the actual problem. I can't even order in my head WHAT are t I can't believe it: how on Earth a book on such an important topic can be so BADLY WRITTEN?? It's one of the most chaotic books I've ever read. It's difficult to understand what the author is talking about because she jumps from one topic to another, merging some other people's dialogs, mentioning some events from the past from other countries and a hell of a lot of examples at the same time. None of them emphasized enough to point out the actual problem. I can't even order in my head WHAT are the real problems behind the humanitarian aid, I can just remember some of the blurry examples of bad money and work management from all over Africa. I'd love to be able to understand what is wrong with the system, get all scandalous about it and tell my friends what is going on - but I just can't, there are too little shocking facts to actually shape your opinion and get you the full picture of how the work is and should be done. All there is is just chaos of random cases which get just a couple of sentences of attention from the author.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lija

    An eye-opening piece about humanitarian aid organizations, Linda Polman asks and explores a lot of questions about the intentions and exploitation of aid organizations. The author really makes the reader think about where aid money is going and how it’s being spent (if the money even makes it to the desired people/project/group/etc. and if it can even be traced to its final destination). The book shows the bigger picture and really puts into perspective the help/relief aid organizations are actu An eye-opening piece about humanitarian aid organizations, Linda Polman asks and explores a lot of questions about the intentions and exploitation of aid organizations. The author really makes the reader think about where aid money is going and how it’s being spent (if the money even makes it to the desired people/project/group/etc. and if it can even be traced to its final destination). The book shows the bigger picture and really puts into perspective the help/relief aid organizations are actually providing. In many cases, it seems that organizations are just trying to satisfy donors with the bare minimum in the short-term, while not providing what is actually needed for long-term solutions. The question is whether humanitarian aid should be given even if the time, money, and resources end up in the wrong hands. Do we have an obligation to help in the moment, no matter what the ultimate outcome or consequences are? All in all, although difficult to follow at times, an interesting and informative read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anne Mcarthur

    Yes, the information in this book is important. No, it's not new. And yes, organizations are trying to do better, but when you are in a crisis situation with corrupt governments, there are ugly things that happen. Or they don't happen, like Yemen now. Yes, some NGOs use outrageous marketing approaches...so don't give them money. Or report them. Or do some research and find out what the good NGOs are. Foundations can be equally dangerous as they don't officially have to report their results and t Yes, the information in this book is important. No, it's not new. And yes, organizations are trying to do better, but when you are in a crisis situation with corrupt governments, there are ugly things that happen. Or they don't happen, like Yemen now. Yes, some NGOs use outrageous marketing approaches...so don't give them money. Or report them. Or do some research and find out what the good NGOs are. Foundations can be equally dangerous as they don't officially have to report their results and they can drive agendas that may or may not be in the public good. OK...with that said, I found this book to be snarky, holier-than-thou and in some parts, she used stereotypes of Africans that were racist and unfair. And the aid lingo dictionary in the back was just stupid.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Sami

    It was a decent introduction to the problems of humanitarian aid, though it wasn't very well written. In addition the layout of the book with glossary at the end was very disappointing. There was some really good information included in the glossary definitions which I would have preferred to see included in the actual book, as reading a glossary is pretty boring. It was a decent introduction to the problems of humanitarian aid, though it wasn't very well written. In addition the layout of the book with glossary at the end was very disappointing. There was some really good information included in the glossary definitions which I would have preferred to see included in the actual book, as reading a glossary is pretty boring.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Miranda Waters

    While I definitely think the questions and situations presented in this book are important and necessary for the global humanitarian community to address - most of the situations and problems deserved a much deeper dive than provided by the author. That's not to say this work is worthless. I think it's a very important read. I just wish the author took more time to prove their point. The book really comes off as "all aid is bad aid" though the very short conclusion firmly asserts that this is no While I definitely think the questions and situations presented in this book are important and necessary for the global humanitarian community to address - most of the situations and problems deserved a much deeper dive than provided by the author. That's not to say this work is worthless. I think it's a very important read. I just wish the author took more time to prove their point. The book really comes off as "all aid is bad aid" though the very short conclusion firmly asserts that this is not the point the author is trying to make. And some of the examples used to critique the international humanitarian community are actually examples of crimes that should be prosecuted in home countries - such as the direct and blatant kidnapping of amputee children, forced illegal immigration (seriously - people stealing children, forging documents, etc. not the politicized 'southern border' stuff... it's actual trafficking of traumatized children under the guise of getting them medical assistance), and subsequent brainwashing carried out by various religious organizations. While the author's impartiality and objective lens is necessary for the survey of the topic at hand - there are instances where at least mentioning, explicitly, the statutes under which certain aid organizations have behaved criminally would have strengthened the book as a whole. Also... there's a lot of really heartbreaking stuff in this book. I recommend it, with a grain of salt and a critical eye, to anyone involved in, thinking about, or generally interested in humanitarian work. I do NOT recommend it to those who cannot deal with the worst examples of humanity.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    Although written several years ago, this book examines the ethical dilemma faced by Int'l aid organizations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In the examples put forward, these NGOs have increasingly become machines pumping millions of dollars/supplies into specific disaster areas without any real oversight or accountability. The result is corruption, waste and the unintended politicization of humanitarian aid and aid workers. The result is often perpetuating the conditions that brought Although written several years ago, this book examines the ethical dilemma faced by Int'l aid organizations in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In the examples put forward, these NGOs have increasingly become machines pumping millions of dollars/supplies into specific disaster areas without any real oversight or accountability. The result is corruption, waste and the unintended politicization of humanitarian aid and aid workers. The result is often perpetuating the conditions that brought about the disaster in the first place. Polman concludes the book by raising specific questions that should be asked and answered before blindly committing resources for this aid.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ewa Klimuk

    Let’s make the world a better place but let’s do it smartly, learning from all the horrific mistakes described by Linda Polman. The book is definitely an eye-opener and quite a fair (in my opinion) evaluation of some development and humanitarian work done so far. I found it really interesting and informative. Still, as always, when reading any one-sided opinion, also this time, I have missed some positive examples, just to make the entire judgement a bit more balanced. All in all, Polman made a Let’s make the world a better place but let’s do it smartly, learning from all the horrific mistakes described by Linda Polman. The book is definitely an eye-opener and quite a fair (in my opinion) evaluation of some development and humanitarian work done so far. I found it really interesting and informative. Still, as always, when reading any one-sided opinion, also this time, I have missed some positive examples, just to make the entire judgement a bit more balanced. All in all, Polman made a great job in saying publicly all those things that have not been openly shared with the public opinion.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Reid

    This nonfiction ‘exposé’ of the aid industry was absolutely fascinating. It was so interesting hearing all of the sometimes unbelievable stories of what goes on in the aid world and the ways it affects and can actually worsen war. It has definitely made me look at charity and aid organizations a lot differently and wary of the ‘crisis caravan’ that travels the world today. I think everyone should read this book and even though it’s already a bit dated (the most recent situation discussed in the This nonfiction ‘exposé’ of the aid industry was absolutely fascinating. It was so interesting hearing all of the sometimes unbelievable stories of what goes on in the aid world and the ways it affects and can actually worsen war. It has definitely made me look at charity and aid organizations a lot differently and wary of the ‘crisis caravan’ that travels the world today. I think everyone should read this book and even though it’s already a bit dated (the most recent situation discussed in the book was Darfur, Sudan) I think it’s still a really important, fascinating read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Noelani

    Mirroring the sentiments of another reviewer, 5 stars for challenging my thinking and preconceptions. Polman shows that the humanitarian aid situation (dare I say industry??) is deeply flawed. Instead of excusing the situation as "surely aid is better than doing nothing??" Polman points out that there is no need to keep humanitarian industries exempt from a critical eye and hold them accountable for their effects and roles in the greater system in which they operate. Mirroring the sentiments of another reviewer, 5 stars for challenging my thinking and preconceptions. Polman shows that the humanitarian aid situation (dare I say industry??) is deeply flawed. Instead of excusing the situation as "surely aid is better than doing nothing??" Polman points out that there is no need to keep humanitarian industries exempt from a critical eye and hold them accountable for their effects and roles in the greater system in which they operate.

  13. 4 out of 5

    David Chabot

    This one is a real slap in the face, destroying persistant myths about humanitarian aid and the feel-good-give-generously scheme we all go through once in a while. From Sudan to Rwanda, the author explains how NGOs basically make it worse by spinning the money making wheel by profiteering from disastrous situations. It's a real eye opener, although a bit all over the place, and it should be read by everyone. This one is a real slap in the face, destroying persistant myths about humanitarian aid and the feel-good-give-generously scheme we all go through once in a while. From Sudan to Rwanda, the author explains how NGOs basically make it worse by spinning the money making wheel by profiteering from disastrous situations. It's a real eye opener, although a bit all over the place, and it should be read by everyone.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Polman shows how giving $$$ to crises ends up slowing the recovery process and often funding the bad guys. This book helped me make a list of bold questions to ask of any organization that I donate to, to check if they are being ethical. Confession: I didn't read the whole book because it was too depressing. A couple of chapters was quite enough! Polman shows how giving $$$ to crises ends up slowing the recovery process and often funding the bad guys. This book helped me make a list of bold questions to ask of any organization that I donate to, to check if they are being ethical. Confession: I didn't read the whole book because it was too depressing. A couple of chapters was quite enough!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Priyanka Mogul

    "At what point do humanitarian principles cease to be ethical?" Never thought I would read anything that would urge me to ask this question. Polman's observations completely opened my eyes to an entirely new side to the humanitarian aid industry. "At what point do humanitarian principles cease to be ethical?" Never thought I would read anything that would urge me to ask this question. Polman's observations completely opened my eyes to an entirely new side to the humanitarian aid industry.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Izabella Gyorfi

    Eye opener and shocking. My first piece in this type of books and made me want more and want never again at the same time. Written in a way thatkeep you reading on even though what you’re reading justmakes you angry and powerless....and frustrated..

  17. 5 out of 5

    Ilona

    Really good job with searching, analysing situations and citations. One of a kind book about NGOs and humanitarian work.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Idwer

    Anyone who thinks (I)NGOs are a force of good in this world, ought to read this book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ania

    A not-so-well written book about very important issues.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Alicja

    Great reportage, eye and mind opening concept. Very rational argumentation based or real situations and autenthic examples.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Edwin Setiadi

    World class investigation on the murky international aid industry 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 manner. It analyses, among other things, the dilemma of neutrality in war zones, the hypocrisy of aid workers who fly in business classes and hugely contribute to the increasing rate of prostitution in whichever town they've arrived, and the role of refugee ca World class investigation on the murky international aid industry 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 manner. It analyses, among other things, the dilemma of neutrality in war zones, the hypocrisy of aid workers who fly in business classes and hugely contribute to the increasing rate of prostitution in whichever town they've arrived, and the role of refugee camps in wars (for instance, the fact that Afghanistan's Taliban movement was born in an Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan). The book talks about the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof, the "refugee warriors" that hide among the victims, the "genocide credit" received by Rwanda, the amount of money Mother Teresa actually had ($50 million in 1 account in New York City alone) and many ugly realities on the ground where international aid often becomes a big part of the problem in warring countries, and even unwillingly becomes the supplier for the rebels like in Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia and East Timor. It also discuss about aid opportunists like the case in Niger that caused inflation and famine, the illusion of "phantom aid" like in Iraq, and the blurry line between aid and US military strategy in Afghanistan post 9/11. The book also describes human cruelty at its very worst: the deliberate starvation in Ethiopia, village burning and rape in Darfur, nurturing war criminals responsible for genocide in Goma, and all of this for, and in the name of, international aid. It also explains the reason why the rebels were chopping off hands in Sierra Leone, and why the government officials were jubilantly celebrating when Sierra Leone was ranked as the poorest country in the world. I believe I haven't read anything as disturbing as this book (have I mentioned that it's literally giving me nightmares?), where the worst kinds of human beings have found a rotten way to exploit the aid industry, causing a genuine headache for the good guys trying to save the world. But nevertheless, it is without a doubt one of the best books I've ever read, with world class journalistic investigation and an engaging style of writing. And it is definitely 1 of my top 10 books to read to understand how the real world works. I can no longer see the likes of charity, refugee camps and war strategies the same way anymore.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hana

    An excellent and thought-provoking two part review of this book by Philip Gourevitch in the The New Yorker prompted me to add this book to my TBR list. Gourevitch's follow-on second part to the review lists several other interesting books on the topic of the moral hazards of humanitarian aid. Gourevich is far from glowing in his review of this book, so the other references seem needed for a full picture. The article includes a link to a brilliant bit of reporting on Haiti, which is the sort of r An excellent and thought-provoking two part review of this book by Philip Gourevitch in the The New Yorker prompted me to add this book to my TBR list. Gourevitch's follow-on second part to the review lists several other interesting books on the topic of the moral hazards of humanitarian aid. Gourevich is far from glowing in his review of this book, so the other references seem needed for a full picture. The article includes a link to a brilliant bit of reporting on Haiti, which is the sort of reporting Gourevich holds as essential if governments and N.G.Os are to be held more accountable. In a This American Life show from May, 2010, the lead segment "asks the excellent question: How can you have ten thousand N.G.O.s working in Haiti, and yet in the fifty years that that country has been receiving humanitarian aid it has gotten poorer every year? Since then Haiti has only gone from grim to grimmer, and one of the few proud claims of the humanitarian international that largely rules the place these days—that it had succeeded in preventing the outbreak of cholera—can no longer be made. The report on “This American Life” describes the deep wariness and even animosity many suffering Haitians feel toward N.G.O.s, and how, even as they yearn for help, they may often wish that most of the current crop of self-appointed helpers would just leave them alone."

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I wanted to read this book because I used to work for an international NGO and I saw this book featured on The Daily Show. It covered a lot of ground I already knew about: NGOs are dependent on good marketing and being in the right place at the right time... it's a business and the competition is huge. I knew that materials designated for aid were often stolen by corrupt governments and that aid workers could instill great damage to individual psyches while being touted by media as being compass I wanted to read this book because I used to work for an international NGO and I saw this book featured on The Daily Show. It covered a lot of ground I already knew about: NGOs are dependent on good marketing and being in the right place at the right time... it's a business and the competition is huge. I knew that materials designated for aid were often stolen by corrupt governments and that aid workers could instill great damage to individual psyches while being touted by media as being compassionate (the story she tells of the US business who essentially stole children and brought them back the the US to be adopted will make your blood boil). The reason that I couldn't give this book a higher rating is because it didn't go far enough. Maybe it was intended to be a snapshot in time (most of the book focused on Rwanda and how the West got it wrong) but jumping from Rwanda to Sierra Leone to Darfur to Afghanistan was confusing. You also have to be very patient with the acronyms - they are everywhere. Glancing over the history in each region and calling out some aid organizations by name and not others left me very unsettled. Specificity goes a long way. Worth reading but in small doses.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jur

    Linda Polman´s The Crisis Caravan (In Dutch: De crisiskaravaan. Achter de schermen van de noodhulpindustrie) paints a pretty depressing picture of the crisis aid industry. She shows how the interaction between aid organisations, victims, local powers and the press have changed since the early 1990s The major development in the field is that since the early 1990s there has been a huge proliferation in the number of NGOs, especially with the appearance of MONGOs, or 'My Own NGO's. The main effect h Linda Polman´s The Crisis Caravan (In Dutch: De crisiskaravaan. Achter de schermen van de noodhulpindustrie) paints a pretty depressing picture of the crisis aid industry. She shows how the interaction between aid organisations, victims, local powers and the press have changed since the early 1990s The major development in the field is that since the early 1990s there has been a huge proliferation in the number of NGOs, especially with the appearance of MONGOs, or 'My Own NGO's. The main effect has been that the NGOs need to put much more effort in PR to catch attention of potential donors. And this has put them at the mercy of the press, who need to have a reason to turn up. A secondary effect of the competition between NGOs is their lack of negotiating power relative to the local powers. It is enough to turn cynical at the whole aid industry, but Polman says we shouldn't leave it at that. Sometimes we have no choice but to shake hands with the devil to save lives, but also sometimes, we need to decide that by providing aid, we are only prolonging the suffering and destabilising a country for a long time. see the full review

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alina Apine

    "In Goma he'd felt as if he were in an "aid agency supermarket" in which aid groups "blare[d] out their names and logos like soft drink manufacturers." After reading this book I had nightmares- I went to bed and had nightmares of doing humanitarian aid. It is powerful. Page after page you just see the rabbit hole that is the humanitarian aid industry. Polman goes through the different ways in which it is dysfunctional, bloated, politicized, corrupt and just down right repulsive. When we tend to t "In Goma he'd felt as if he were in an "aid agency supermarket" in which aid groups "blare[d] out their names and logos like soft drink manufacturers." After reading this book I had nightmares- I went to bed and had nightmares of doing humanitarian aid. It is powerful. Page after page you just see the rabbit hole that is the humanitarian aid industry. Polman goes through the different ways in which it is dysfunctional, bloated, politicized, corrupt and just down right repulsive. When we tend to think of humanitarians there is a variety of associations that spring to mind, but probably not greedy, exploitative, corrupt. But all of this is just a sign of fantastic image management on the side of the humanitarian NGOs. It is a well developed, complicated machine. Polman write something along the lines of "a business machine dressed as Mother Theresa". She explores the politicization of aid, the role aid plays in helping corrupt groups, individuals and governments stay in place. The reason this book gets a five star rating is that the book basically explores a big moral question: Should humanitarian assistance always be provided, and also should it be provided to everyone who asks?

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dave

    I give it 3 stars for the import of what the author talks about and how little people probably know about the people they donate to. The discussion of specific regions and how NGO's and the like are involved are very informative in a broad way. My problem with this book is that it doesn't feel coherent. The author goes back and forth from one crisis area and time to another. There is something almost too personal about the writing when it often needs to come across more analytical I think. But a I give it 3 stars for the import of what the author talks about and how little people probably know about the people they donate to. The discussion of specific regions and how NGO's and the like are involved are very informative in a broad way. My problem with this book is that it doesn't feel coherent. The author goes back and forth from one crisis area and time to another. There is something almost too personal about the writing when it often needs to come across more analytical I think. But again, that doesn't detract from the overall message of the problem with how aid is set up, distributed and accounted for. The author questions many times over the course of the book "is it better to do something or do nothing"? And the answer is not as clear as one would think, knowing that I believe the gut reaction of most people is "of course, do something". That's not so clear cut when you realize what 'doing something' actually entails and the further problems it causes. The greatest thing to take away from this book is a healthy questioning of the system of aid that many countries give AND many contries and people manipulate.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Elliot Ratzman

    Humanitarian NGOs--from the Red Cross to small Church-based efforts--emerged in the last century to relieve civilian suffering. War, famine and disaster finds NGOs on the scene providing aid and coordinating relief. Polman, a Dutch journalist, takes a jaundiced look at the downside of Doctors without Borders and other efforts. Yikes! There are some terrible stories here that illustrate ethical issues and "ethical disasters" of relief. For example, hundreds of thousands of genocidal Hutus fled Rw Humanitarian NGOs--from the Red Cross to small Church-based efforts--emerged in the last century to relieve civilian suffering. War, famine and disaster finds NGOs on the scene providing aid and coordinating relief. Polman, a Dutch journalist, takes a jaundiced look at the downside of Doctors without Borders and other efforts. Yikes! There are some terrible stories here that illustrate ethical issues and "ethical disasters" of relief. For example, hundreds of thousands of genocidal Hutus fled Rwanda, settling in neighboring Congo. After a short time, millions in NGO aid were siphoned off by the Hutu army, subsidizing more genocide. Unregulated Church NGOs cause more harm than good. The media reaction to amputees in Sierra Leone ends up prolonging the conflict. Billions in aid to Afghanistan ended up with no lasting development. Lessons: remove the perverse incentives and contract competitions surrounding aid. Regulate and coordinate aid groups and we will stop paving those roads to hell.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Alexey Kornilov

    A well-written account of abuses and intrinsic problems of humanitarian aid. A good share of occurrences where aid is given is caused not by natural disasters, but by wars and local conflicts. Famine is more likely to happen where a civil war or government-forced mass relocation goes on, than in the drought zone. International aid organizations are heavily robbed and taxed by warring parties and oppressing governments thus contributing to the war economy and prolonging the conflicts. Moreover, so A well-written account of abuses and intrinsic problems of humanitarian aid. A good share of occurrences where aid is given is caused not by natural disasters, but by wars and local conflicts. Famine is more likely to happen where a civil war or government-forced mass relocation goes on, than in the drought zone. International aid organizations are heavily robbed and taxed by warring parties and oppressing governments thus contributing to the war economy and prolonging the conflicts. Moreover, sometimes people are deliberately made to suffer in order to get the attention of the aid organizations, the Sierra-Leone amputation campaign being the stunning example. This is by no means a comprehensive survey of humanitarian aid issues. Ms.Polman rather tells stories than gives the statistical evidence. But she definitely brings home the point that there is a problem and it should be addressed somehow.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Martina Zuliani

    An excellent reading on humanitarian aid and its business. Having a MA degree in human rights and humanitarian law myself it happened to me to notice how certain aid organizations do use human sufference to cast the bigger amount of donors and funds, sometimes litteraly exploiting people and their traumas. In this book, the author explain perfectly the run on aid that humanitarian organizations do in every crisis, their ise of the press and the use that local politicians and armed groups do of a An excellent reading on humanitarian aid and its business. Having a MA degree in human rights and humanitarian law myself it happened to me to notice how certain aid organizations do use human sufference to cast the bigger amount of donors and funds, sometimes litteraly exploiting people and their traumas. In this book, the author explain perfectly the run on aid that humanitarian organizations do in every crisis, their ise of the press and the use that local politicians and armed groups do of aid taxes and robberies. The author does ask if it is necessary to help always and under any circumsance or if it would be better to stop helping in these situations where a large ammount of humanitarian help is used to finance a conflict. She does not provvide a question herself, as she recognize that the problem is too wide, but she surely offers food for thought to many people and organizations. A must read for any people involved in humanitarian aid and for any enthusiaust helper.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gwendoline

    Polman does a great job illustrating to the reader exactly what is wrong with the way humanitarian work is portrayed, either by means of providing cash or as a moral obligation. Through the different events throughout the book, one can see exactly what is wrong with this frame of thought - exploiting amputees to raise funds, providing funding to rebels and military, creating new forms of free markets that do nothing to better the current situations. Her objective is obviously not to dissuade aid Polman does a great job illustrating to the reader exactly what is wrong with the way humanitarian work is portrayed, either by means of providing cash or as a moral obligation. Through the different events throughout the book, one can see exactly what is wrong with this frame of thought - exploiting amputees to raise funds, providing funding to rebels and military, creating new forms of free markets that do nothing to better the current situations. Her objective is obviously not to dissuade aid, but rather to show that situations like that is Sierra Leone, Goma, etc. are complex in nature and cannot be solved by NGOs, INGOs, MONGOs (...), nor by throwing money, food, and clothing at the situation. Problems that happen on a local and internal level must be solved structurally before they can be aided externally to relief the situation. Highly recommend.

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