Linda Polman is the author of the book The Crisis Caravan. This book looks at how aid groups may actually be contributing to the problems they are trying to aid. She uses her personal experience to illustrate these problems. The author is a Dutch journalist. This is her third book. The other two are We Did Nothing: Why the Truth Doesn’t Always Come Out When the UN Goes In and War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern Times.
Polman’s principal concern in her book is that these aid groups are going into areas of crisis and becoming a part of the problem. She observes that often a large proportion of the relief is going toward the oppressor. This is prolonging the war and becoming a part of the oppressor’s military strategy.
Polman says that “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa,” (177). She thinks this because there are hardly any regulations on these organizations. They are able to set up aid only on the condition that they can agree with the local people. They do not need to have special training, know about the culture, know about the politics of the area, or abide by any specific rules. These groups are free to make their own judgment calls. If they see that their aid is helping the oppressors, there are no uniform guidelines groups must abide by in this situation. It is the groups own judgment call to stay or to leave. The humanitarian aid market is also a free market, just like businesses are. They are somewhat competing instead of working together collectively.
Right now, it seems as if journalists are not well educated on these groups. Instead of sending journalists that are trained in the subject, they send journalists who are in the area. They do not realize exactly what is going on. When they report to the public about the situation, this makes the problem worse. Now the general public does not see the true problem either. Journalists need to have better training in these topics if they are going to report on them.
The public tends to not question these groups either. Humanitarian aid really does not cost people that much. However, it seems like a lot of money to the countries that are in conflict. The public needs to concern themselves more with what may seem like a small amount of money to them because they actually have the ability to make a huge impact, whether that is positive or negative.
The government has little say in these aid groups. They are typically NGOs ,non-governmental organizations, that are going in to provide relief. Because they are not associated with the government there is little they can do. The book warns that without a government enforcing rules, these groups are going to continue to face the same problems. However, there is an international law that states these groups must be in control of their resources. If they are not, they should pull out. Many groups do not follow this law. When donor governments give money they often do not do their research on the organizations. They make their judgments on what they have heard the group is doing to help. They do not actually check if they are abiding by the international law. These donor governments needs to make sure they are giving to organizations that are actually going to help and not provide some of its resources to the oppressors.
I think that there needs to be some sort of governing council for these organizations. They need to set a list of enforceable rules.The book mentions that there is a group like this called the Sphere Project. However, they have created guidelines and not rules. This really does not mean anything for people. They can still do whatever they want. It is hard for the people in the action to make a judgment call because they are attached to the people in the area. If they had specific instructions to follow that they knew could not be changed and that would be enforced, it would be easier for them to leave certain situations. A group like this would ensure that conflicts are not prolonged.