Linda Polman’s book Crisis Caravan exposes the faults within humanitarian aid organizations, including NGOs.
Her concerns begin with the dilemma expressed by some of the world’s first humanitarian workers: Henri Dunant and Florence Nightingale. The question they differ on is to what extent does one leave and ask “Is it worth it?” NGOs have been subjected to paying excessive amounts to rebel organizations, missing supplies, witnessing atrocities to other groups as well as not being allowed to treat others suffering.
Dunant believed it was a duty to help no matter what and he carried over the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence while forming the International Committee of the Red Cross in 1863. Nightingale believed aid fails in purpose of warning parties use to their own advantage.
One must determine whether it is just to pick certain human rights to defend and to have others that are chosen from as NGOs have to provide funds to rebel causes, and remain witnesses to atrocities for the sake of neutrality. For example, in Goma, NGOs were at the mercy of the Hutu extremists.
“In one attack, twenty-five private security guards at an aid supplies warehouse belonging to CARE Canada were shot dead by robbers. Their places at the gate were coolly taken by Hutu extremists, who then demanded-and apparently got-regular salaries from CARE,” (Polman 31).
Polman expresses her concern with aid organizations that have to pay or give supplies to enter a war zone. Warlords use the money to arm themselves, while the aid organizations are trying to help the people they are injuring. For example in Somalia, “the entrance fee charged by warlords to as much as 80 percent of the amount the aid supplies were worth,” (Polman 96). Polman has an issue with the fact that the people who the INGOs are negotiating with are the ones that are mainly the cause of the conflict. By paying to enter the area, they are facilitating the conflict that is ravaging the area. Ethics are not considered once in a war zone, but they should be on this matter. Polman stresses the weight of the benefits the aid organizations are providing with the fact that millions of dollars are entering the pockets of these violent regimes only to make them more powerful. Not only do the aid organizations have to pay, but their lives are pt at risk by working with the powerful leaders. In the Congo, six Red Cross workers were killed for helping the Lendus, whom they were not allowed to help based upon an earlier agreement.
Another concern Polman raises is that NGOs provide aid that is not needed. With the introduction of MONGOs (My Own NGO) which are “run by people who are convinced they can get things sorted out in a crisis zone more effectively, quickly, and cheaply than the “real” aid workers with- to MONGO eyes at least- self serving motives and cumbrous bureaucracy,” (Polman 50), the influx of problems in providing any kind of emergency relief has increased. In times of crisis, MONGO carriers unknowingly bring in broken supplies, just bringing in whatever donations received. They focus more on the quantity of goods they are providing rather than the quality in order to boost their statistics. I will address their business mindset later on.
“MONGOs have been known to ship frostbite medication to victims of tropical disasters, and starving Somalis have received laxatives, slimming cures and electric blankets,” (Polman 52).
Polman has issues with MONGOs like this because they are doing more harm than benefit in the areas they enter. They are often unorganized and led by people who feel they have a calling to do good, rather than true humanitarian aid experience. Bringing supplies, medical equipment and clothes that the people of that country either can’t use or don’t need defeats the purpose of the MONGOs existence. Polman argues that those living in a war zone “deserve protection from people that arrive unannounced and set about to work without the most basic qualifications,” (Polman 62). Another issue Polman has with MONGOs is the fact that larger aid organizations rarely critique the faulty MONGOs to avoid negative publicity for the entire industry, so their mistakes rarely go noticed by the general public.
Journalists, Public and Government Officials
This is something that journalists, the public, and government officials need to focus on to make humanitarian aid more successful. Since larger organizations won’t hold themselves or MONGOs accountable, it is up to these groups to ensure that these organizations are performing justly and efficiently. Journalists need to expose the fact that an MONGO performing an operation killed a young boy or another one delivered winter coats to refugees in the desert instead of tagging along with them to refugee camps. Journalists need to distance their relationships with the aid organizations to do an un-biased job reporting on them. By exposing these mistakes, the public, including those that donate money or supply, learn the faults that these organizations have. Public officials need to create some sort of regulation to make sure only legitimate organizations are entering the countries needing aid, instead of a random group with no experience. These regulations will protect those who need the aid, ensuring they receive only legitimate aid. All of these groups are lacking the urgency to investigate these aid organizations properly and are missing out on an important ongoing global issue.
“Businesses Dressed up like Mother Teresa”
Polman uses this term in the afterword of her book Crisis Caravan to define the business mindset of many NGOs. They operate like a business for contracts to travel to provide aid in these areas, a term Polman deems “contract fever”. NGOs are in competition with each other by how much money they raise, the number of countries they operated in a year or the number of patients they have treated. These statistics are put together in a report published to the public to have donations poor in. For many NGOs, the percentage of a donation that actually goes towards humanitarian aid is lower than most would think. The website, Charity Navigator, allows people to see how much of their donation goes towards what causes. However, the NGOs hide their business motivations by portraying a “Mother Teresa” front to make themselves appear more charitable in the public eye. By competing with each other to make themselves appear the most involved in global affairs, the NGOs are positioning themselves to receive the most aid, which helps get the better contracts, and powers the entire cycle.