The Crisis Caravan
In Linda Polman’s book, The Crisis Caravan, she raised many deep issues about humanitarian aid organizations that are typically not talked about as much. I, for one, had no idea about some of the problems of humanitarian aid organizations, such as the idea that such aid organizations may actually do more harm than good in the areas that they help. Some of the main issues she raises in her book are about how much of humanitarian aid end up enabling warlords to prolong their wars, how almost anyone can set up a MONGO and try helping with no experience leading them to cause more harm than good, and how aid ends up being used as a weapon of war.
Starting off with how aid can be used to enable warlords and continue conflict in areas, she uses the example of how humanitarian aid helped to enable the Hutu extremists to carry on their extermination of the Tutsis in Rwanda. The many different aid organizations that tried to help the situation seemed more concerned with winning as many contracts and donors as possible, leading many of the organizations to compete with one another by offering the most help to people in the areas. This led to many of them giving many handouts to the Hutus to try to get closer with their leadership to ease their relations with them, allowing them to work easier in the area, but leading to more resources being given to the Hutus. When some aid organizations refused to hire Hutus so that they couldn’t use their salaries to fund the conflict, other NGOs jumped in to hire them so that they could again ease their relations with the leadership, leading to the employed Hutus being able to use their salaries to fund the extermination of the Tutsis. The Hutus were vary aware of the contract fever which was going on with the aid organizations, and were able to take advantage of them to prolong the conflict.
Another issue was the problem of MONGOs, “My Own NGO,” and how some Westerners created their own organizations that they thought could be more effective than the bureaucracy of real organizations. Many of these MONGOs believed that many of the NGOs arrived too late to help and often brought along too few supplies. However, according to Polman, many of the MONGOs end up sending wrong, oversupplied, and not needed donations. Clothes sent by such organizations would end up not being used because of how oversupplied they were with clothes, some Tsunami victims would be sent winter coats and polar tents, and even some MONGOs have sent frostbite medication for victims of tropical disasters. Also, in some cases, many individuals that had a skill in the West believed they could use it to help those in need in other places in the world. A few doctors from America believed they could use their medical expertise to help those that were sick and hurt, and while they might have helped them temporarily with their issues, in most times the proper aftercare was not provided as such doctors would eventually leave and cause those sick and hurt to be worse off than before.
One of the worst problems of humanitarian aid was how it was being used as a weapon of war. When NGOs and other aid organizations would want to enter a conflict area, many times they would have to contribute a percentage of their aid to the warlords running the area, causing the aid organizations to help fund further persecution and conflicts. In many of the situations, the conflicts may have ended sooner without the help of aid, because those causing the conflict would have eventually run out of supplies and funding to continue such conflicts, whereas when the aid would come in, factions and warlords could skim off the aid and use it to prolong conflict.
Linda Polman states that many of these “aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” to give a perspective of how many of the times the sole goal of these organizations is to receive more funding, not on focusing on how they can help conflicts and situations, but how they can take advantage of such conflict to gain more donors. In fact, when many of these organizations will travel to areas to help those in need, they will often pay for a journalist to accompany them as well to report back to the West on how they are helping. This leads to more coverage of the aid organization, leading to more donors and government funding. When Polman says they are “dressed” like Mother Teresa, I believes she means that they try to portray an outside image of an organization that’s sole purpose is to help those in need, however under the dress they are actually a business wanting more money to grow their organization and the benefits of those that work within it.
How to make humanitarian aid successful
First, as Polman states, journalists barely look into how aid organizations are spending their money and how they are making a real impact. However, such journalists should look into the integrity of the aid organization and find out the long term impacts of their initiatives, rather than just reporting them helping starving children in Africa. The public also has a major impact in how well these aid organizations help those in need, for they are many of the donors backing such organizations. The public needs to realize that just looking at an aid organization’s website and seeing pictures and articles of them helping those in need is not enough evidence to donate to them, they should use their wallets to force aid organizations to show true effects of their work in the situations they work in and how their impact has bettered the situation. Governments also play a major impact as well, in which they fund a major portion of such aid organizations budgets. Although NGOs are separate from the government, I believe that if governments were to audit such organizations to see how well they use their donations, and make that information public, then people would be able to contribute to better NGOs. The governments across the world should also be more selective of which organizations receive such funding, and not allowing just any NGO that looks good on the outside to receive funding, but rather looking at their long term effects on troubled areas.