the crisis caravan

Do doped-up maniacs really go a-maiming in order to increase their country’s appeal in the eyes of international aid donors? Does the modern humanitarian-aid industry help create the kind of misery it is supposed to redress? That is the central contention of Polman’s new book, “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?” Metropolitan; $24, translated by the excellent Liz Waters. Three years after Polman’s visit to Makeni, the international Truth and Reconciliation Commission for Sierra Leone published testimony that described a meeting in the late nineteen-nineties at which rebels and government soldiers discussed their shared need for international attention. Amputations, they agreed, drew more press coverage than any other feature of the war. “When we started cutting hands, hardly a day BBC would not talk about us,” a T.R.C. witness said. The authors of the T.R.C. report remarked that “this seems to be a deranged way of addressing problems,” but at the same time they allowed that under the circumstances “it might be a plausible way of thinking.” Polman puts it more provocatively. Sowing horror to reap aid, and reaping aid to sow horror, she argues, is “the logic of the humanitarian era.” Consider how Christian aid groups that set up “redemption” programs to buy the freedom of slaves in Sudan drove up the market incentives for slavers to take more captives. Consider how, in Ethiopia and Somalia during the nineteen-eighties and nineties, politically instigated, localized famines attracted the food aid that allowed governments to feed their own armies while they further destroyed and displaced targeted population groups. Consider how, in the early eighties, aid fortified fugitive Khmer Rouge killers in camps on the Thai-Cambodian border, enabling them to visit another ten years of war, terror, and misery upon Cambodians; and how, in the mid-nineties, fugitive Rwandan génocidaires were succored in the same way by international humanitarians in border camps in eastern Congo, so that they have been able to continue their campaigns of extermination and rape to this day.

via Humanitarian aid and catering conflicts : The New Yorker.