Linda Polman’s “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid?” takes you through the world of humanitarian aid through the eyes of a journalist as it makes stops at various points of distress on the world map. Stops where we can see how good intentions find it so tough to reach the right people and don’t always produce the same best results as people believe. The book touches on the challenges faced by humanitarian aid organizations in dispersing aid to the needy and the corruption and inefficiencies they have to deal with to keep moving. It also touches on the big focus on marketing that aid organizations have to be involved in to be in the limelight of the affairs in order to extend and renew funding contracts. She makes us aware of things that we try to forget in order to feel good after every donation we make. She tells us our responsibilities don’t end with donations and aid.
Explaining from the differences in the humanitarian logics of Florence Nightingale and Henry Dunant in addressing the miseries of war, Linda shows us what all happens that we might not be aware of. Nightingale’s biggest point against Dunant was that if the groups that go to war no more has to worry about the wounded and displaced, then that would only increase their need to go for war. More than telling us what is wrong she is showing us the untold and unseen aspects when war, drought, hate and disease all strike at once and how good intentions scramble at the feet of power and policy to help those who are in need.
She shows us the perils and ineffectiveness of the system as well as the political state of affairs that humanitarian aid companies have to deal with when they try to bring help. She also discusses how the humanitarian aid effort at times can work against the long term recovery in many places, the bigger picture where aid workers are left between the need to help and the challenge of the funds reaching wrong hands. She takes us to Rwanda, Congo, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and so on as she puts us the reader in a spot where we will not have a definite answer and will keep asking. I was left with a few of mine and I am sure you will too –
- Why is it that those who need the real help always remain in need for help?
- What prompts man to kill everything human in him and still live and breathe?
- How can a system remain uncorrupted and efficient when there is so much funds involved and they keep rolling hands?
- How can you stop people from being hungry for power and recognition when the entire population starves on the road side?
- How can aid be used to make progress in eradicating the evil that demands its need than be glorified fillers of hope in the cracked face of misery?
- Will any amount of humanitarian aid make the needed difference if people are not ready to embrace each other?
- When does man transform from being a needy to a selfish profiteer of the very aid that helped him?
I think this book will tell you that the problem we face is much more than the one you can solve with a donation. In my opinion while humanitarian aid is the immediate need of the hour, the long term solution is more a political and policy based. The humanitarian aid work should not be considered as a final solution, but only short relief to a bigger issue. Awareness in the developed and fast developing nations about the wastage of resources and how this wastage effects those in despair is a worthwhile discussion we should involve obviously in the backdrop of the biggest question that troubles humanity today “How can we successfully stop wars and conflicts and have peace?”