Post #6: Linda Polman’s View on Humanitarian Aid

Linda Polman raises many concerns about the ethical implications and possible complications regarding humanitarian aid. Many people never question the distribution of humanitarian aid. Citizens believe aid agencies flawlessly solve human rights issues, and all money directed to foreign aid agencies goes directly to fighting those human rights transgressions. However, as Polman points out in her book, The Crisis Caravan, that is not always the case. She states that aid agencies are simply “dressed” like Mother Theresa. While they appear fautless on the outside, there are many systematic issues that stop aid agencies from helping people the best they can. The principle concerns Polman explores in her book are the emergence of MONGO’s, or My Own Non-Governmental Organizations, and the neutrality of aid agencies regarding the regimes of the countries where their aid is being directed.

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MONGO’s are organizations that have taken humanitarian aid into their own hands. As Polman explains, these organizations believe that traditional aid agencies have not done enough or worked hard enough to combat global poverty or human rights transgressions. While the people who work for these MONGO’s mean well, they often head into crisis zones with little to no experience or training. Often times they do not even have a plan or course of action. As a result, they often to more harm than good. According to Polman, these agencies clog up crisis zones, and donate excessive amounts of un-needed materials. This can be seen in the large amounts of winter clothes that were donated to the victims of a tropical tsunami. Another example are the expired food and medicine sent abroad that end up being unusable. Polman contributes the rise in MONGO’s partly to the increased broadcast of news across the television and Internet. This has made the general public more aware of the suffering going on around the world, and has led to increased personal motivation to stop that suffering firsthand. However, more often than not MONGO’s, if they end up providing any help at all, are only a Band-Aid, and do nothing to stop the systemic problems that led to countries requiring aid in the first place.

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Another problem against the international aid community Polman raises in her book is the tendency for aid agencies to overlook questionable political regimes when providing aid. When aid agencies operate in a country overtaken by a dictator or warlord, they often have to bend to the will of that dictator or warlord in order to be allowed to do any work whatsoever within that country. In many developing countries warlords take a portion of humanitarian aid. The aid agencies allow it, because they believe the other option, leaving millions of people without aid, is worse. In this way, humanitarian aid requires a sort of ethical blind spot. Aid agencies often turn a blind eye to corruption in favor of the “greater good.” However, Polman believes this is no longer an acceptable course of action. She argues that aid agencies can no longer remain neutral on matters of corruption and human rights violations. While traditional aid agencies such as the Red Cross have followed guidelines of neutrality, separating aid from the country’s government, Polman believes aid agencies have a duty to minimize human rights violations across the world, and condemning corrupt regimes is the first place to start.

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Aid agencies must work from within to combat these issues. They must make decisions on where to direct aid based on what area of the world needs it the most, not where they have the most lucrative donor contracts. They must also construct, and then adhere to, an ethical set of standards. Journalists must also work on holding aid agencies accountable. They must act as a watchdog, asking aid agencies the tough questions and investigating them if needed. We as citizens have a job to do as well. We also need to hold aid agencies accountable. We cannot contribute our time or money to questionable aid organizations. If we want to contribute to an organization, we should research that organization thoroughly before donating. Humanitarian aid can do a lot of good in the world. We simply need to be more careful, and more ethically conscious in the way we distribute it.

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