World class investigation on the murky International Aid industry

“The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong With Humanitarian Aid?” by Linda Polman

This book is literally giving me nightmares. It’s a disturbing eye opener, which explains the ugly truth of the international aid industry, written in a composed and factual manner. It analyses, among other things, the dilemma of neutrality in war zones, the hypocrisy of aid workers who fly in business classes and hugely contribute to the increasing rate of prostitution in whichever town they’ve arrived, and the role of refugee camps in wars (for instance, the fact that Afghanistan’s Taliban movement was born in an Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan).

The book talks about the likes of Bono and Bob Geldof, the “refugee warriors” that hide among the victims, the “genocide credit” received by Rwanda, the amount of money Mother Teresa actually had ($50 million in 1 account in New York City alone) and many ugly realities on the ground where international aid often becomes a big part of the problem in warring countries, and even unwillingly becomes the supplier for the rebels like in Sri Lanka, Yugoslavia and East Timor. It also discuss about aid opportunists like the case in Niger that caused inflation and famine, the illusion of “phantom aid” like in Iraq, and the blurry line between aid and US military strategy in Afghanistan post 9/11.

The book also describes human cruelty at its very worst: the deliberate starvation in Ethiopia, village burning and rape in Darfur, nurturing war criminals responsible for genocide in Goma, and all of this for, and in the name of, international aid. It also explains the reason why the rebels were chopping off hands in Sierra Leone, and why the government officials were jubilantly celebrating when Sierra Leone was ranked as the poorest country in the world.

I believe I haven’t read anything as disturbing as this book (have I mentioned that it’s literally giving me nightmares?), where the worst kinds of human beings have found a rotten way to exploit the aid industry, causing a genuine headache for the good guys trying to save the world. But nevertheless, it is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read, with world class journalistic investigation and an engaging style of writing. And it is definitely 1 of my top 10 books to read to understand how the real world works. I can no longer see the likes of charity, refugee camps and war strategies the same way anymore.