“The Crisis Caravan”
Our reading for this week was a chapter from Linda Polman’s book, “The Crisis Caravan”. Specifically we focused on chapter five, “Aids as a weapon of war”. By this, Polman means use of humanitarian aid as a weapon, or advantage for one country over another. The primary goal of humanitarian aid is to save lives, to alleviate suffering, and to maintain human dignity. This is referring to countries sending aid to the areas they choose, no matter if other regions are in greater need of assistance. This is a way for countries to control who deserves help and who does not. On a humanitarian, human rights viewpoint, this is a ludicrous tactic. Humans deserve help, especially when it comes to life or death situations, no matter what side of the battle you are fighting. This is an issue that is heavily debated within the wars happening right now. For example, would it be okay for a medical humanitarian aid organization to refuse treatment to a civilian from the opposing country, just because they are not fighting on the side of their country? After all, this is a war tactic, to intentionally only help the individuals you want to win. The question is, is there a line that should be drawn when the situation is life or death. Sometimes it is not as simple as an in battle aid situation. Another example is providing food, water, and shelter to one region, but not to another, as a tactic of weakening the opposing population. Essentially, you would be starving the opponent to death as a means of violence in order to win the battle. From a human rights perspective, this is ridiculous.
Another issue Polman addresses is the lack of direct contact with the people humanitarian organizations are aiding. Many times, the aid is monetary, or even food and water. The problem is, these goods are not delivered personally to suffering individuals, so the aid actually ends up in the hands of the wrong people, such as other organizations, or even the government. This means that the people who actually need the aid are not getting it, or getting a very small portion of what was intended for them. This often leads to more suffering for the people needing the aid, as they are thrown farther into turmoil as the majority of the population and government grows stronger from the aid that was once meant for them.
Polman says “aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Theresa”, referring to how aid organizations look to be very helpful, almost saint like, organizations from the outside perspective, but in all reality, they are typically doing their “good deeds” to gain some kind of publicity, money, or popularity for their actions. In other words, they usually only do good when someone is watching, or when the organization stands to gain something from the aid they are attempting to provide.
In order to make humanitarian aid more successful, it needs to become more detached from the government. It needs to be more focused on a human rights perspective, which will allow for more aid to be given where it is needed, instead of where the government dictates it to go. This can help prevent the aid from being used as a war tactic, and allow it to be used the way it needs to be.
Polman, Linda, and Liz Waters. The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print.