Crisis Caravan Book Summary By Linda Polman

*This post contains affiliate links, and we may earn an affiliate commission without it ever affecting the price you pay.

The Crisis Caravan is a book that examines the challenges and risks of delivering humanitarian aid in war-torn areas.

It takes an analytical look on how, even with the best of intentions, relief effort can do more harm than good due to political, social and economic factors.

The author offers advice on how we can make a difference and create positive changes for these areas by improving the way we deliver aid.

Packed with insightful chapters and insightful surveys from heritage requests, this book is considered to be one of the must-read texts in understanding the complexities of humanitarian assistance.

Whether you're looking for advice or just interesting information on aid delivery, this book has something for everyone interested in learning more about it.

Crisis Caravan

Book Name: Crisis Caravan (What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?)

Author(s): Linda Polman

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

Categories: Economics

Author Bio

Linda Polman is an experienced journalist who has been working in war zones for over fifteen years.

Her work has earned her widespread acclaim, including a spot on the shortlist for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage due to her book We Did Nothing: Why The Truth Doesn’t Always Come Out When The UN Goes In.

In her latest book Crisis Caravan, Linda tackles a difficult subject, drawing on personal experiences as a reporter and an unflinching eye as to how we can do better when it comes to providing aid in times of crisis.

Her experience and research have culminted into this comprehensive book which provides vital insight into our current situation and potential solutions.

What’S Wrong With Humanitarian Aid And How It Can Be Improved

Humanitarian Aid

Have you ever donated to a humanitarian organization only to find out that the aid doesn’t seem to be making any difference? You’re not alone!

The reality is that, despite the millions of dollars given out in donations every year, only a small fraction of it actually reaches those in need.

So what’s wrong with humanitarian aid and how can we change it?

In Crisis Caravan, you’ll find out exactly why your money might not be going where you want it to.

It investigates how terrorist factions can benefit from refugee camps, why a poor country hiring PR specialists can end up being beneficial, and why some organizations give money to groups they know should not get it.

It also provides solutions on how to make sure our donations reach its intended recipients more efficiently in future crises.

With this book’s help, you can better understand why it’s still possible for so many people around the world to suffer despite an abundance of charity money – and how we can carry on helping them for real.

Humanitarian Aid: An Unfulfilled Ideal Of Neutrality And Impartiality

It’s no longer a surprise that modern aid organizations often fail to stick to humanitarian principles due to their shift towards commercial enterprises.

This was made particularly evident in 1994 during the Rwandan genocide, when Hutus slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

When armed Tutsi forces sought to fight back, thousands of Hutus fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and 250 aid organizations gave these refugees medical care, food and shelter in refugee camps in Goma.

The insidious truth though was that these camps effectively served as strategic centers for the armed Hutu forces, who then carried out further attacks on the nearby Tutsi people.

The extremist Hutu government simply relocated from Rwanda to Goma and continued their horrendous acts.

However, remarkably, the aid organizations were aware of this yet failed to uphold the principle of neutrality by siding with the Hutus instead.

The reason for this comes down to money; it’s highly cost-intensive for humanitarian aid organizations so they try to recoup as much investment as possible by winning donor contracts – competing against other organizations for donations instead of working together for one common cause.

How Humanitarian Aid Can Make Life Worse In Conflict Zones

When it comes to providing humanitarian aid in conflict areas, warring factions often take advantage of the situation to exploit such aid.

In many cases, negotiating with armed guerilla forces is a requirement for aid organizations in order to access the area and deliver necessary supplies.

A prime example of this is the 2004 tsunami that occurred in Sri Lanka.

When Caritas International imported building materials for reconstruction, the Tamil Tigers taxed their imports by 25%.

This increased expenditure for Caritas and also funded the Tigers’ cause.

In war-torn parts of former Yugoslavia, UNHCR had to surrender 30% of the supplies they delivered each time they went through armed Serb forces’ roadblocks when delivering aid.

Refugee warriors have also been known to hide and regroup in refugee camps as human shields, where they can even use civilian refugees as “aid bait” – a means to obtain more humanitarian assistance while remaining under cover.

A Lottery For Aid: How Humanitarian Organizations Decide Which Crises To Address

Humanitarian Organizations

When it comes to providing aid, organizations are free to choose which crises they want to support.

Aid is not a right, but rather a favor that can be given or withheld.

The decision of which crises receive aid—or don’t—comes down to the organizations’ cost-benefit analysis.

They will often opt for the crisis that has more potential donors so they can get back the most they invest.

In turn, media attention dictates which crises become known and which get ignored.

Humanitarian organizations might prefer regions that experience highly publicized events and command more public interest, allowing them to recoup their costs with more donations.

For instance, Jan Egeland discovered this when working in Wakanda during the Rwandan genocide.

Despite the competing 25 desperate regions calling for help every week, only one can win based on how much attention it gets rather than its unique threatening situation.

In Palestine, press officers are employed solely to help bring global attention to the plight of their people in hopes of becoming one of those chosen few recipients of aid.

Organizations Exploit Conflict Zones, Magnifying Suffering For Profit

Aid organizations have been known to manipulate the media in order to draw attention to their humanitarian missions.

When a cholera outbreak occurred in a refugee camp in Goma during the Rwandan genocide, aid organizations quickly started giving updates on what was happening through daily press conferences.

The death toll rapidly increased from 600 to 3,000, which resulted in more media attention and more donations for the organizations.

Unfortunately, it soon came out that some of these “deaths” were actually murders by extremist Hutus for suspected disloyalty towards the Hutu regiment that was based in the camp.

This showed how far some aid organizations are willing to go in order to gain attention—even exaggerating figures and lying about casualties—for their own gain.

Another strategy employed by major aid organizations is using influence-peddling tactics on journalists.

This can include providing them with expensive chauffeurs or interpreters as well as offering free flights so they can witness any possible suffering first-hand.

This can lead journalists developing close relationships with such groups, hindering their ability to remain impartial and objective when reporting about them.

The Danger Of Unregulated Humanitarian Aid: How My Own Ngo’S Leave Crisis Victims Vulnerable

The truth is, due to the lack of laws regulating the quality of humanitarian aid, victims of crises are not protected against unqualified aid.

This is especially true when so-called “My Own NGO’s” enter a crisis zone without appropriate qualifications or experience and set out to ameliorate the very problems they could end up creating instead.

A good example of this is in Afghanistan where religious American MONGOs gave out Bibles along with meals which did nothing but create tensions with the government there.

It isn’t always well reported either – major organizations like the Red Cross and UNHCR don’t want any criticism due to MONGOs reflecting poorly on them.

This kind of intervention also happened in Freetown, Sierra Leone when some private individuals and MONGOs relocated several child amputees away from their families ostensibly for medical treatment without them actually needing it as the camp was providing suitable care for the children already.

Without any regulations that protect victims in these situations, it’s left up to luck or chance as to whether there will be aid that adequately meets their needs or not.

Why Humanitarian Aid Has Failed To Successfully Aid Afghanistan

Aid Afghanistan

Since 9/11, humanitarian aid work in Afghanistan has failed miserably.

The primary reason is that the money gets lost along its way to where it’s needed.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) set aside $15 million to build a road from Kabul to Kandahar, yet only enough money was left for a low-quality stretch of tarmac that wasn’t much better than the original path.

Moreover, organisations fear the Taliban so much that they often keep their headquarters and projects hidden, leading to no supervision over how the funds are being spent.

Additionally, Western countries expect aid organizations to work as force multipliers which supports their military strategies – an unwelcome notion by enemies of the US which resulted in these organisations becoming targets for the Taliban.

This created a tight bond between military powers and aid organizations, thus making efforts more difficult and failing ultimately worse.

Making Humanitarian Aid Work: Reevaluating Principles, Increasing Transparency, And Holding Organizations Accountable

If we want to improve humanitarian aid, it is essential that we are able to criticize and question the work being done.

This has been a difficult task due to the longstanding principle of “aid at any cost”.

The Red Cross’ failure to take action during WWII is an example of this principle failing in the face of Nazi terror – an error which they have since labelled as “tragic”.

In order for us to ensure that we don’t make similar mistakes, we must take time to reassess the core values of humanitarian work and evaluate whether they achieved their intended purpose.

We also need a way to ensure accountability within these organizations.

The establishment of ALNAP was one effort made towards this goal, however after monitoring progress for eleven years ALNAP discovered that there was still no effective means for assessing performance.

Finally, in order to keep those involved in aid work accountable, journalists must resist the benefits offered by organizations and remain impartial throughout their reporting.

It is only through these steps that we can move forward with improving humanitarian aid.

Wrap Up

The final message of Crisis Caravan is that we must be more conscious and informed about how our donations are being used in order to maximize their efficacy.

Many aid organizations have become commercial enterprises, meaning they are focused on the media’s view of them rather than actually doing the job at hand: delivering aid to those in need.

Furthermore, many organizations can become manipulated by warring factions and do not have proper protection for victims when mistakes occur.

Therefore, as an actionable advice, readers should always research before donating money.

This means they should read as much as possible about the organization they’re giving money to, where it will go and make more informed decisions with their donations so that it serves its genuine purpose of helping those in need.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.