Category Archives: Assignment 3

Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian aid is defined as aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of emergencies. Humanitarian aid is provided all over the world but it is most commonly recognized as an action performed by Americans in other countries. Humanitarian aid can definitely be a positive factor in other countries because it helps people in poorer countries receive the medical assistance that they need. Many times, these countries do not have the money or resources to fund medical aid to help the sick in their own country. When Americans go overseas to fulfill these duties, it gives the United States a better image. It shows that we are willing to help people in other countries, not just America and we care about their needs. Their lives are just as valuable as anyone else’s.  A lot of times we are even putting the needs of people in other countries before the needs of people in America. According to “In the Eyes of Others,” it was said that overall, patients appreciate Medecins Sans Frontieres’s (a western humanitarian aid group) prescence, services and impact on health programs. In general, it seems as if aid provided by Americans in other countries is welcomed and people are receptive to it in a positive way.


However, there are some negative aspects to humanitarian aid provided in other countries. In Niger and Liberia, citizens of these countries said they had to travel far distances to to reach medical aid and MSF did not coommunicate enough with the patients explaining to them why medical projects were set up. It seems as though they are not completely opposed to humanitarian aid being given in their country, they just want it to be more convenient and explained to them why medical assistance is given in their country by Americans. A thought that I had as to why people might not be as receptive to humanitarian aid in their country is because it might make them look bad. It almost says that a specific country cannot take care of their own people and Americans go over to make themselves look like heros in the eyes of others.

While reading “In the Eyes of Others,” I thought it was really interesting that in Liberia, hospitals are seen as a last resort, after self-medication, a local doctor, traditional healer, pharmacy, church and clinic. In America it seems as if people are going to the hospital for every little injury that in Liberia would probably be solved by self-medication. It’s almot as if Americans take advantage of the great medical benefits and assistance offered to us as citizens of this country. When humanitarian aid is given in other counries, I feel as though most of the emphasis is put on immediate needs of people, such as medical assistance, as opposed to bettering schools, roads, infrastructure, etc. It makes sense that most emphasis is put on immediate need because that deals with the life of a human being. However, I think more aid should be given to things such as schools and roads. In Jamaica, the school we taught at had walls with huge holes in them because of a hurricane that came through and the walls were never replaced (we replaced them while there). I feel like the people in that area in Jamaica were more concerned about other things than the condition of the school, which is why Americans should do more in the way of aid to make sure schools are in good shape to nurture a positive learning environment.

I wanted to throw one of my own opinions out there in regards to humanitarian aid in other countries. I’m curious as to how women in other countries feel about it compared to men. I think women might feel inferior to humanitarian aid because they might feel that men think they are not doing their job. In a lot of countries, women are supposed to stay home and take care of the house and in a sense, men. They might not like the fact that other women are coming to their country and doing the jobs they are supposed to do. When researching humanitarian aid, I found it interesting that other countries are now reaching out, not just western culture. According to, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, to name a few, are now reaching out with humanitarian aid.

Some food for thought…..

This is an article about a recent U.S. humanitarian aid donation

A documentary showing work done by an MSF group in Somalia


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Assignment 3

A humanitarian aid is like a double-bladed sword that can be both beneficial and harmful. In the process of supporting and delivering, intended and unintended problems can be occurred. Some humanitarian organizations are aware of these consequences and problems; however, they do not have other options but to follow the system and work with what they have. From Sierra Leone to Rwanda to North Korea, humanitarian organizations have said lives in spite of inefficiency of them. A human being’s responsibility to protect humanity in whole has formed strong INGOs. The intention is great, but many factors make harder for INGOs to work as genuine and passionate as before. In the book The Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman, the author goes in-depth analyzing where the problems have come from. These humanitarian organizations can’t avoid capitalism. INGOs earn most of their money from donations and it’s crucial that they use the media properly and effectively. Boutros-Ghali referred the CNN as the sixteenth member of the Security Council (Polman 101). It’s also logical idea for INGOs to hire beautiful women as press officers. It’s understandable that they need money, but using donated money to get more money by spending it too much in the media sounds ironical.

“As a rule, Sierra Leoneans in Freetown can barely even get close to the white humanitarians” (Polman 118). There are walls between the white community and uninvited locals. This made me upset. When I was in Tanzania this spring studying abroad, I’ve noticed something-you do not see Mzungus (a Swahili word for white people but locals call foreigners as ‘Mzungu’) anywhere but specific places. The places include: Subway, KFC, bourgeoisie restaurants, coffee shops and hotels. I met some people who work for the USAID in a club. They never tried to learn Swahili, never associate with locals unless they have to. How are they going help them if they shut down doors on them? “I’ve known aid workers who cared for child soldiers and war orphans by day and relaxed by night in the arms of child prostitutes” (Polman 120). Just like there are good and bad people in the world, there are aid workers who have good mentality and inappropriate mentality for them to work in humanitarian organizations.

Aside from intended consequences of internal structure of humanitarian organizations, there are unintended issues happening in the local fields. Charles Taylor, the president of Libya demanded 15% of the value aid, to be paid him cash. Also the entrance fee charged by warlord was almost as much as 80% of the aid supplies in Somalia (Polman 225). Yesterday, there was a major conference between North Korea and South Korea in Panmoonjum of the DMZ. For years, South Korea has been providing a humanitarian aid for North Korea, but the government of North Korea has been using the money for its military weapon. A humanitarian agency is getting money from compassion and heart of people for humanity. Donors blindly believe, and less aware of that where their money goes. And INGOs use those facts to manipulate people to get their revenue.


a good intention iteslef will not save anyone. people should be more aware about their helping hands.


Hall, Peter Christian. “’The Crisis Caravan’: Charity’s Road to Hell?” Huffington Post. October 11, 2010. Web. <>

Fanthorpe, Richard. “Humanitarian aid in post-war Sierra Leone.” University of Sussex.  (2003): n. page. Web. < aid in post war Sierra Leone the politics of the moral economy.pdf?1>

Polman, Linda. The Crisis Caravan. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2010. Print


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Good Intentions Gone Wrong: Who Does Humanitarian Aide Really Benefit?



All aide organizations, big and small, seem to start their aide projects with good intentions. All aide projects are initially based on the simple principle of helping those in need. Aide organizations themselves are quick to explain how they have positively impacted suffering populations through pictures and statistics that can be found each of their respective websites. For example, on the UNHCR website, the primary purpose of this organization is explained to be “to safeguard the rights and well being of refugees” as well as “to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country” (UNHCR, “About US”).


UNHCR Workers help to distribute aide in a refugee camp.


Additionally, the UNHCR websites includes “facts and figures” about all the aide they provide. Currently, about 10.4 million refugees and about 15.5 million internally displaced people are “of concern” to UNCHR (UNHCR, “Figures at a Glance”). To fund these expansive projects, the received $4.3 billion in 2012, a record-breaking number for this aide organization (UNHCR, “Figures at a Glance). And although these statistics seems impressive, Polman argues that they are not entirely accurate. Specifically in the case of UNHCR, the organization fails to mention the vast number of soldiers who are residents at the refugee camps and subsequently are supplied with food and medicine, thus supplying and aiding the continuation of war (Polman, 99). Polman states that there is a small mention of these “refugee warriors” on the UNHCR website for political reasons (however, I could not find anything on the website that mentions them) (Polman, 99). If the organization’s main objective is to help those displaced from war, supplying soldiers so that war can be continued make their efforts seem almost counter-productive. With enemy soldiers living in their camp, how are refugees supposed to feel safe and protected? Why doesn’t UNHCR seems to be fulfilling what the  organization claims is it’s most basic intention? What is more important to the organization than helping their refugees? The answer is sadly quite simple: funds from donors. Polman explains that agencies such as UNHCR “can’t afford to lose contracts because bad ‘news’ has got out about the presences of refugee warriors in camps” (Polman, 100) Aide organizations are completely dependent on funds from public and private donors. The aide industry needs money to function, and therefore is mostly concerned about maintaining current donors and attracting new donors. This can mean altering statistics or reports to ensure their donors believe their money has been well spent. The emphasis on pleasing donors has a tremendous effect on where, when, and what aide is distributed across the globe.

In an attempt to please donors, aide is often distributed to areas that are popular in the media and not necessarily  the most deserving of aide. This affects both where and when aide is distributed. An example of this would be the camp for Sierra Leone’s amputees. Polman explains that “journalists from all over the world pounced on the story of the amputees”, and as a result the camp received more funding per refugee than any other aid operation in the world during this time (61). Many aide organizations, public figures, and other interested visitors come to take pictures of the amputees, exploiting their conditions for funding and publicity. Max Chevalier, the head of an NGO working in Sierra Leone, believes the influx of visitors to the camp is counterproductive in resorting the health and safety of the amputees (Polman, 66). The amputees have received an overabundance of prosthetics, medicine, second-hand goods, and media attention. When one man called Chevalier and asked about filming the camp for his respective organization, Chevalier replied “in this country three hundred and three out of every thousand children die before they reach the age of five, from malaria, diarrhea, and anaemia. Why not make a film about that?” (Polman, 66). Because the public is not interested in those children, the filmmaker is only interested in filming the amputees. Instead of equally distributing aide among the amputees and dying children of Sierra Leone, the amputees receive the majority of funding because they are of interest to the donors. Long after the amputees had received sufficient donations, donor interest prolonged the giving of aide to the camp. ultimately donors control the allocation of funds, and this dispersal of funds is often based on personal interest instead of necessity.

Donors can also dictate what kind of aide organizations distribute because, after all, it is their money that funds the organizations. Again, in the case of Sierra Leone, this does not always reflect positively on those receiving aide. The amputee camp has more than enough prosthetics for each amputee to have two. In fact, unused prosthetics can be found in piles all over the camp (Polman 66). Nevertheless, aide organizations continued to donate prosthetic limbs. In this case, money that could have been used to productively provide aide was spent on useless items. Polman also emphasizes the unique situation in Sierra Leone where donor interest resulted in the abduction of amputee children. An example of this would be Sam Simpson, the leader of an aide organization who came to Sierra Leone to take two children from the Sierra Leone camp on the basis that they did not have “any prostheses” and if they did have them, they were cheap and unattractive (Polman, 70). In America, Simpson adopted the girls and they made many appearances in the American media, including time on Oprah’s talk show. Oprah untied one of the girls, Damba, with her biological family on one of the shows episodes. Oprah’s website explains that “After six long years, Damba is finally reunited with her mother—and her new baby brother!” (“A Mother’s Love”).

An amputee adopted by an American family is reunited with her biological family from Sierra Leone.


However, a few weeks after the show, Damba’s family returned to Sierra Leone (Polman, 85). The case of Sam Simpson is not isolated as most of the camp’s children were relocated and adopted in other countries. The biological parents of these children unknowingly signed an agreement that enables their children to be adopted into another family, and most parents never see their children again. The children have no real medical reason to go to the United States, or other countries. Polman points out that the fact these children are poor is “no excuse to take them from their parents” (75). Even so, the wants of donors take priority over the real needs of the Sierra Leone victims.

Did the camp truly serve its purpose? Were the victims able to integrate back safely into their society? A report by Michelle Faul says no. Faul argues that “victims say they have been cast aside and left to beg on street corners by a society eager to forget the savagery” (Faul). Can anything be done to ensure that aide camps be more successful and that aide is distributed more fairly? Many argue that a governing body is needed that ensures victims receive quality aide that is untouched by unintended recipients, is used to help the basic needs of victims, and is distributed to areas of the world that need to most. Would this ever really work? It’s hard to say. There are so many blurry lines when it comes to aide. At what point is aide more harmful than helpful? Can you really remain unbiased in aide distribution? Who had the right to decide what areas of the world are “more in need” than others? Because these questions seem impossible to answer, corruption can easily work its way into the aide industry. However, one thing remains certain: the functionality of the aide industry must be reevaluated so that aide can be made more effective overall.



“A Mother’s Love.” Harpo Productions. Web. 09 June 2013. <>

“About Us.” UNHCR News. Web. 09 June 2013. <>.

“Figures at a Glance.” UNHCR News. Web. 09 June 2013. <>.

Michelle Faul. “Sierra Leone Amputees Feel Marginalized.” AP Online (2006): Newspaper Source Plus. Web. 9 June 2013.

Polman, Linda. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Viking, 2010. Print.






Humanitarian Aid: Where is Our Money Going?

“Text “Haiti” to 90999 to give $10 to the American Red Cross Relief for Haiti.”

We’ve all seen this message or ones like it, and maybe we’ve even felt the immediate satisfaction of sending this aid from our armchair.  But where does this $10 go?  According to Linda Polman, author of 2010’s War Games, up to 80% of humanitarian aid money that is being poured into humanitarian zones, such as the refugee camps outside of Rwanda, is being siphoned off by the militias and governments who are perpetuating the conflicts.  International non-governmental aid organizations (INGOs) face a tough choice:  Swallow the consequences and continue delivering aid resources to a region where they know a chunk of it will be taken and sold for profit by warring parties, often elongating the conflict?  Or should they halt aid shipments altogether so as to not be a part of the problem, even though this will cease the delivery of aid to those in need?

MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres AKA Doctors Without Borders) staff provides aid in a refugee camp outside Goma

MSF (Medicins Sans Frontieres AKA Doctors Without Borders) staff provides aid in a refugee camp outside Goma

The International Committee of the Red Cross has guiding principles that outline their policy on aid, and most, if not all, other INGOs follow their principles.  In War Games, Polman states, “Humanitarian aid is based on a presumed duty to ease human suffering unconditionally.  Aid organizations endorsing the humanitarian principles of the Red Cross promise neutrality (no cooperation with one side in preference to the other), impartiality (the giving of aid purely according to need) and independence (from geopolitical, military or other interests).” (Polman 7).  However, she goes on to say that expecting other factions to abide by these rules is simply unrealistic.  “The tragedy of the admirable Red Cross rules is that they are unenforceable.” (Polman 9).  Researchers at the University of Utrecht and Cordaid in Afghanistan agreed, saying, “In this kind of war, calling on, or expecting, the parties to respect humanitarian principles is like calling on a gang of muggers to fight by the rules of boxing; it’s not just laughable, it’s irrelevant.” (Polman 9).

Although the manifest, or primary, function of humanitarian aid is to provide aid wherever, whenever, and to whomever possible, many other unintended consequences come about.  The exploitation of humanitarian aid is a war tactic in many areas, whether we like it or not.  Polman told Jon Stewart in an interview in 2010, “Aid money is actually helping war lords to fill their war chests.”  By charging an “entry fee” including made up taxes and the like, local governments tap into the billions of dollars of aid money that is being brought into the area.  Many times they use this money to continue funding their wars.  In this way, INGOs and the aid they bring can indirectly sponsor continued violence in war-torn countries.  “The number of organizations and the amount of money they come to spend in countries with no other sources of income turn the aid industry, supposedly neutral and unbiased, into a potentially lethal force the belligerents need to enlist.” (Polman 97).  Aid can also be a war tactic in ways other than financing.  Those in power get to decide if aid is allowed into a region, and usually this is a political choice.  “If those in power locally gave aid organizations permission to distribute food aid in a particular region, it was because populations had to be persuaded to stay put.  In areas where permission was denied, the purpose of the ban was to force people to leave.” (Polman 110).  Through both of these tactics, we can see how the implementation of humanitarian aid is taken advantage of by warring factions.

So what do humanitarian aid workers do?  What do the organizations themselves do?  What can our governments do?  And what should we as global citizens do?  The answers to these questions are still up in the air.  Polman has opinions on the matter.  “If aid has become a strategic aspect of warfare, can the claim to neutrality made by humanitarian aid organizations still be justified?” (Polman 11).  An interesting point Fiona Terry made regarding medical aid in Goma was, “Should we respect conventional medical ethics, treating anyone who needed it, regardless of their history, or should we recognize our wider responsibility?”  (Polman 30).  Most aid organizations provide basic resources to war-torn regions, such as food, water, and shelter.  Bosnians in 1992 during the Bosnian War yelled at humanitarian aid workers, “Your food aid and medicines only allow us to die in good health.” (Polman 104).  They were making the point that although aid helps restore the health of populations, oftentimes it means nothing, as they will die in the conflict anyway.  Would it be better for INGOs to try to fix the problem at its source instead of applying a kind of Band-Aid to the situation?

Is it the place of humanitarian aid organizations to play God and judge who deserves aid and who doesn’t?  Personally, I don’t think so.  There is no denying that many conflicts could be resolved and millions of lives could be saved if certain people ceased to be in power or even exist at all.  However, who are we to say where that line is?

Right now, we are not in a position to deny aid to an area because of corrupt leaders.  There are thousands of NGOs and INGOs, and if one withdraws from an area, another will take its place.  To begin to fix this problem, we all have to start working together.  Governments must communicate and cooperate with the INGOs and vice versa if any truly effective aid is to be given to those in need.  Finding out what we can do to stop the stealing, sky-high taxation, etc of humanitarian aid resources will ultimately help us understand how to effectively help in humanitarian territories.  Last Friday, June 8, the UN requested $5 billion for aid in Syria.  How much of that will actually go where it is intended- to help civilians- and how much will unintentionally help to further draw out this already three-year long regional conflict?  How does the direct good from the resources weigh against the indirect harm from siphoned off resources to fund arms and finance armies?  These are difficult questions that require an analysis of the humanitarian aid industry itself, perhaps even its complete restructuring.


Works Cited


Cumming-Bruce, Nick, and Rick Gladstone. “UN Makes a Record Appeal for Aid to Syria.” Boston Globe, 08 June 2013. Web. 09 June 2013. <>.

“Displaced Again: People Take Shelter in Camps After Fighting in Goma.” Medicins Sans Frontieres – Doctors Without Borders. N.p., 18 Dec. 2012. Web. 09 June 2013. <>.

Harayda, Janice. “When Is Humanitarian Aid Inhumane? ‘The Crisis Caravan’.” OneMinute Book Reviews. N.p., 01 May 2011. Web. 09 June 2013. <‘the-crisis-caravan’/>.

“Linda Polman.” The Daily Show. N.p., 29 Sept. 2010. Web. 09 June 2013. <>.

Polman, Linda, and Liz Waters. War Games: The Story of Aid and War in Modern times. London: Penguin, 2011. Print.


The Skewed Motives Behind Humanitarian Aid

assignment 3-2

Outlining the ideal function of humanitarian aid, Jean-Hervé Bradol, President-Emeritus of Doctors Without Borders France says, “Humanitarian action, as we understand it, directly challenges the logic that justifies the premature and avoidable death of a part of humanity in the name of a hypothetical collective good… It is intended to reach those who are being robbed of life by violence and extreme privation” (Bradol 5,6). Continuing this train of thought, it is generally understood that the function of humanitarian aid is to respond impartially to the need of a community, or communities, following the aftermath of a crisis with complete neutrality.

Interestingly enough, however, it appears that those in the humanitarian sphere today have instead become socialized to distribute aid in a way that supports and perpetuates financial competition between individual aid organizations. There are so many humanitarian organizations competing to solve the many crises that occur in the world that economic competition against one another is inevitable. Humanitarian groups today do take actions that align with the motive that Bradol illustrates as responding to areas of violence and deprivation, but in the end, it appears that humanitarian aid is most heavily influenced by motives that are economically based. Linda Polman writes in her book, War Games, “…the most powerful link between humanitarian aid agencies is that of commercial competition. Aid organizations that fail to put in an appearance at each new humanitarian disaster miss out on contracts for the implementation of aid projects financed by donor governments and institutions, and are bypassed left, right and centre by competing organizations that do show up” (Polman 37). If aid organizations want to remain in the forefront of donors’ minds, they must be present at any and all crises locations so that they can attend to soaring logistical costs and fund future endeavors relevant to their specialized areas of concentration. There has also been an “…introduction of results-based management in humanitarian organisations” (Hofman 2) that emphasizes short-term economic benefits for humanitarian organizations for involvement.

Due to underlying economic motives, humanitarian aid plays into part of a large symbiotic system that includes several bodies in response to a humanitarian crisis. First a crisis occurs and the 17 main donor governments and other independent donors feel stirred to contribute financially to the cause. These donors contribute to and benefit the many independent, humanitarian organizations that respond to the crises. Aid organizations are in competition with one another for donations and so in order to ensure immediate and continued financial support, rely upon the press to provide coverage to donor audiences. The press then benefits from news that will tug at heartstrings and gain viewership. In Sierra Leone, when a civil war broke out in 1991, one of the tactics of the Revolutionary United Front was to dismember the limbs of the innocent who did not side with the opposition.“…Journalists from all over the world pounced on the story of the amputees… Partly as a result of media attention, Sierra Leone became the beneficiary of the largest UN peace mission and… the largest humanitarian aid operation anywhere in the world at the time. Even organizations that were not there specifically to help amputees used photos of people in Murray Town Camp in their fundraising campaigns” (Polman 61).

This leads me to ask the question that when aid agencies are in such staunch competition with one another for donations, are they really seeking to aid the areas and people most in need or are they seeking to aid the areas that will draw the attention of donors? An unfortunate result of the symbiotic relationship between specifically press and aid distribution is that the crises that receive the most press coverage are then the ones that receive the most attention from aid organizations and vice versa. Haiti received a staggering amount of press coverage and even more attention from aid organizations. Even three years after the earthquake in 2010, there are still 185 ongoing aid projects across the nation. 250 INGOs were in Goma after the genocide that occurred on April 6, 1994, and “The camp economy was flourishing compared to that of Rwanda, where hardly any aid organizations, let alone investors, had shown their faces” (Polman 22).

impacthiati (1)

Children who were beneficiaries of humanitarian food aid in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in January 2010

We are also forced to ask the question of whether or not the people being served are groups that should be served. The devotion by such organizations as the Red Cross to neutrality in a crisis situation has profound consequences on the beneficiaries of aid. A member of staff at an American organization called Refugee Help said, “Most of us gave no though at all to the ethics of our aid provision,” (Polman 34). Humanitarian territories are supposed to be areas where aid is provided that are “…enclaves in war zones… [that] “transcends all military and political imperatives,” (Polman 8) essentially meaning that it is the specific role of humanitarian aid groups to serve blindly to those who are in need. Humanitarian groups strive to aid people regardless of their affiliation with revolutionary or military organizations and will oftentimes end up extending wartime. Organizations have to pad the pockets of corrupt governments or warlords in order to achieve access to the vulnerable areas, which further perpetuates the state of corrupt or dangerous political climates in often unstable, undeveloped nations. “…In the 1980s, the Khmer Rouge found a safe haven in camps along the Thai border after the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia. The UN estimates that the Khmer Rouge managed to get its hands on 50-80 per cent of al the food aid and pharmaceuticals provided” (Polman 102). Refugee camps give a chance of new life through distribution of resources and a place for displaced peoples but blindly so. Refugee camps can give restorative life and resources to those who have committed crimes against their own people, such as the Hutu warriors in the Goma refugee camp. Rwandan President after the Rwandan Tutsi army invaded the camps in 1996 said, “I think we should start accusing these people,” invoking the aid community, “who actually supported these camps – spent one million dollars per day in these camps, gave support to these groups to rebuild themselves into a force.” (32)

All of this being said, how can we determine a more efficient system of aid that is based upon ethically-founded principles and that responds to a need, regardless of economic incentive? How can we design a system that will empower people from their vulnerable state following humanitarian crises and turn them into vehicles that will incite positive social and political change within their nations? It is a daunting series of questions I cannot begin to claim to have the answers to. However, it is a series of questions that needs to be answered by global citizens with urgency, before we become too far entrenched in a humanitarian aid system that oftentimes does more harm than good.

Works Cited

Bradol, Jean-Hervé. In the Shadows of ‘Just Wars’: Violence, Politics and Humanitarian Action. Ed. Ed Fabrice Weissman. N.p.: Cornell UP, 2004. Print.

Fallding, Harold. “Functional Analysis in Sociology.” American Sociological Association28.1 (1963): 5-13. Print.

Frerks, Georg, and Dorothea Hilhorst. New Issues in Refugee Research. Working paper no. 56. N.p.: Disaster Studies: Rural Development, Sociology Group. Wageningen University, 2002. Print.

Hofman, Charles-Antoine, Les Roberts, Jeremy Shoham, and Paul Harvey. “Measuring the Impact of Humanitarian Aid: A Review of Current Practice.” Humanitarian Policy Group. June 2004. Web. <>.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.


The Many Problems of International Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian aid is simply about helping those in need, or is it? I barely knew anything about this subject before preparing for this assignment, and the complexities, corruption and sheer number of unexpected problems comes as a bit of a surprise.  A question like ‘how is it determined where and when aid is given’ involves many factors I wouldn’t have originally included.  A global citizen, one that wants to preserve life and minimize suffering, would like for aid to go to those in need when they need it.  However, INGOs’ decision making process can vary greatly from this ideal.  Today’s 24/7 media cycle can make yesterday’s news seem like last year’s news.  These organizations generate funds through individuals, governments and other organizations donating money.  One would hope those within the organization, those with the expertise to know and want to go where hey can be most effective, would have the biggest influence.  Many times these INGOs simply go where the media presence will be largest; this way their efforts will be publicized, more donors will be generated and the cycle will start again.


This process of just going where publicity will high raises many ethical, logistical and social problems.  For example, Polman describes


victims of a civil war in which both rebels and government soldiers cut off civilians’ limbs. The residents are such a hot draw for journalists that victims who were merely maimed in explosions or accidents are driven out by those who were intentionally chopped. Then come waves of MONGOs (as Polman calls private NGOs, for “My Own NGO”). Now kids whose huts are full of limbs they don’t wear because they wreck photo ops are flown to the U.S. or Germany for state-of-the-art prosthetics that can’t be maintained in Sierra Leone. (Hall)


This is awful.  Ethically this behavior is abhorrent.  Civilians injured in a conflict shouldn’t be treated differently just because the nature of how they received their injury will generate more publicity.  I can see how some may argue that more publicity turns to more funds and so on, but the point of these organization should be to help those in need; if you aren’t going to help those right in front of you then when will you start?  This doesn’t even touch on the fact that money is wasted providing prosthetics for these high profile patients that already have them, prosthetics they can’t even use because there isn’t the infrastructure in place to help maintain them.  Logistically, so many INGOs rushing to the same high profile area causes problems.  There is an overlap of duties, a lack of cohesion and vying to provide the most media savvy story, not to provide the most help.


Corruption on both sides of the aisle is apparent in international aid measures, as well.  The organizational corruption I previously mentioned, but the local area corruption is a major problem, as well.  Local governments or warlords have exploited political situations to manipulate INGOs into essentially bribing them to be able to provide aid in their territory.  The corruption doesn’t stop there, though.  The money or aid resources that could have gone to those in need could now be in the hands of the very person that started or perpetuates the reason for aid.  Down the line local aid deliveries are taxed or stolen, as well.  The aid meant to help alleviate a terrible situation could now be going to the oppressors.


The inability of developed countries to make a dent in the problem, despite spending billions of dollars each year, is what economist and noted aid skeptic William Easterly calls the “second tragedy” of global poverty. But a recent study takes this skepticism to a whole new level, suggesting that food aid not only doesn’t work, but also can prolong the violent conflicts it’s meant to help resolve. (Keating)


This article actually mentions Polman’s Caravan Crisis.  Aid can be sold to help pay for weapons and ammunition.  I need to continue to learn about this topic, but it’s abundantly that work needs to be done to solve this aid crisis.  Perhaps some of the aid money that’s being siphoned off on so many levels would be better spent solving this truly global issue.


Aid being given out. You can see how easy it would be for a local power to take what should be going to civilians.



Hall, Peter Christian. “’The Crisis Caravan’: Charity’s Road to Hell?” Huffington Post. October 11, 2010. Web. June 9, 2013.


Keating, Joshua E.  “Please, Don’t Send Food.”  Foreign Policy. July/August 2012. Web. June 9, 2013.


Linda Polman. “The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?” Macmillan Publishers. New York. 2010.


Humanitarian Aid

The purpose of humanitarian aid is helping those in need and those less fortunate and “is intended to be governed by the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence” (Global Humanitarian Assistance). Unfortunately, successfully aiding those in need is much easier said than done. Charities are oftenfunneling millions of dollars into less fortunate societies only to leave them off worse than before anyone came to help. One of the keys perspectives in sociology, functionalism takes into account the pros and cons of aid projects. A functionalist would state that any kind of giving will help as well as hurt, the keys is figuring out these side effects before acting.

There are two main types of aid – development aid and emergency assistance. Development aid usually deals populations in poverty with poor economies. Emergency assistance is response-based aid, usuallyafter natural disasters that have caused widespread destruction. Of the two, emergency assistance is the more common form of aid. In her video, Polman uses the example of the earthquake in Haiti – billions of dollars were raised and thousands of aid organizations helped the citizens of Haiti. As she talks about in “War Games” as well as her Ted Talk, disaster situations attract a myriad of different organizations as well as commercial attention. In fact, much of the money donated by people around the world goes towards the press and increasing the exposure of the situation.

Development aid isn’t as widespread commercially as emergency assistance because it usually isn’t in response to any certain event. One of the main problems with development assistance is figuring out where aid goes, and what form it comes in. Development assistance can cover anything from giving money to local businesses in a poor economy to building hospitals in an area with high mortality rates.

There are a number of reasons that certain organizations decide who to give aid to and how they do it. Because of this, many organizations are biased in the aid they give to certain populations. This range of different reasons is appropriately called “development biases.” A bias isn’t an idea perpetuated by lack of knowledge or unawareness, but rather an “overgeneralization of some decision rule that might be useful in one context but is ill-suited or even harmful when applied in another”  (Baron & Szymanska 215). One of the most common development biases is “person bias,” meaning organizations will choose to work with certain people because they are easier to work with. Another one is “special bias,” meaning it’s easier to do work in more accessible urban areas than a small poor society that might live in the mountains. One last bias is concerns previous work. It’s much easier to find a place in need of aid if a number of different organizations have been there already. There are a few other project biases that reflect how our own cultures and differences will often interfere with how we aid other countries.

Humanitarian aid is meant to be neutral and equally help everyone in a society, though this usually isn’t the case. Sometimes donations will be spread so thin that it only ends up in the hands of the higher-ups, not reaching everyone in the population. Often, charity is made much more into a business and is abused. This is talked about a lot in Polman’s “War Games.” People need to understand that groups can’t fix an economy just by giving a poor society money. Charities need to fuel businesses, helping the economy from the ground up. After all it is called development assistance; we need to learn how to properly assist these societies instead of blindly throwing money at them.



Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

Baron, Jonathon, and Ewa Szymanska. “Heuristics and Biases in  Charity.” 11 June 2010. Web.

Global Humanitarian Assistance. “Defining Humanitarian Aid.” Global Humanitarian Assistance. 2013. Web.

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Humanitarian Aid

Humanitarian aid organizations are set up with the intentions of rendering aid in times of need -whether it is from wars or natural disasters.  Unfortunately, most of the time, in instances when responding to aid as a result of war, it seems that the humanitarians rush into the process without first assessing the full scope of the situation.  The intended recipients of aid sometimes face negative consequences that outweigh the benefits.

As discussed in War Games, there are many outside factors that effect when, where, and what form of aid is given.  There are instances where the government slants the view of the media by basically putting blinders on them and only allowing them to zero in on one particular thing; essentially creating a false need of aid. In other instances, regimes determine where the aid is given, in what form, and how much.  Basically, putting restrictions on the aid.  In my opinion, it seems as if the humanitarians believe they have control over the aid and where it goes but in actuality, they are really they are being led like sheep.

The humanitarians intend on helping the people in need but in actuality, they tend to react before assessing the consequences.  The benefits they intend to provide are greatly counteracted by the consequences.  In many situations regimes levy “taxes” that are funneled into their “war chests.”  Humanitarian aid organizations see this as a necessary evil to provide aid and prevent unnecessary deaths.  However, the reality is that they are prolonging the suffering by allowing these “war chests” to grow. The result of funding these “war chests” is a prolonging of the war. Based on the readings from the book, the humanitarians do not benefit the intended beneficiaries. On the surface they do but in actuality they don’t because many of the camps are infused with refugee warriors that receive the aid and use it to get stronger. For example, in Goma, dealing with genocide in Rwanda between the Hutus and the Tutsi’s, the humanitarians were actually helping and aiding the proponents of the genocide. There are civilians mixed in with the refugee warriors and the regime government is the one benefiting.

Aid is intended to be gender neutral, but it isn’t. Young children end up being essentially prostituted to the media for the purpose of marketing campaigns, regardless of gender. Aid is sent in for the purpose of helping everyone however, it ends up getting funneled through other regimes before getting to the actual recipients. The regimes main purpose is to predominately help the males that fight for their cause.

The humanitarian aid is a business. This business involves the exchange of excessive amounts of money in many different forms. For instance: food, clothes, medicine, or currency backed by government donors and private donors. While the intent of these humanitarian aid organizations is good, the ripple effects can be unknowingly detrimental. The humanitarian aid organizations can be easily manipulated into provided aid that in turn benefits an unintended entity. In many instances, they in turn manipulate the media to report on only the positives and not the negative consequences that also occur.



Works Cited:

2012. Photograph. www.unmultimedia.orgWeb. 9 Jun 2013. <>.

Hall, Peter Christian . “”The Crisis Caravan’: Charity’s Road to Hell?.” The Huffington Post 11 OCT 2010, n. page. Web. 9 Jun. 2013.

Polman, Linda. War Games. London: Penguin, 2010. Print.

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The Naiveté of Humanitarian Aid

Having read the Polman readings, I can honestly say that my eyes have been opened about the realities of humanitarian aid and the relief system we have in place.  The excess and inefficiency that she highlights is eye opening in the extreme and surely worth a read for anyone that calls themselves a global citizen.  I was absolutely floored by what I read in the introduction and 1st chapter.  I had no idea that the Red Cross and other aid organizations make an effort to be impartial and neutral in their aid giving.  To me, it seems the epitome of naive to throw money at a problem without being able to objectively identify and work against whatever is causing it.

And now for a bit of personal history.  In 8th grade, my history class participated in National History Day, a national competition that has students in middle and high school prepare a paper, presentation, or other form of media about a time in history relating to a theme.  This particular year’s theme was triumph and tragedy, and I chose to write a paper on the Rwandan genocide.  I made it through the local and state rounds and before heading to nationals I tried to give my paper a boost.  I was fortunate enough to meet with Immaculee Ilibagiza, a woman who survived for 90 days in a tiny bathroom with seven other women.  She told me her story and said she might be able to put me in contact with some government officials.  A week later my mother pulled me out of school and told me that I was to meet with Paul Kagame, president of Rwanda and general that stopped the genocide.  During my nearly hour long interview I talked with him about the trials he had faced in retaking and rebuilding Rwanda.  He was proud of how far they had come and was hopeful for the future.  Overall it was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.

I bring this up because while I covered the refugee camps post genocide in my paper, it was not my focus.  Reading Polman’s account of the ordeal made me realize how misguided good will can often be, a theme that clearly runs through the book.  What horrified me most was that while the genocide was occurring, while 800,000 men, women and children were being cut down in their homes with machetes and axes, the West debated over whether it was genocide or not.  And when this horrific killing stopped, we quickly sprang to action to help the killers.  The support given to them perpetuated a vicious cycle.  It gave the still intact Hutu government and militias a staging ground for their attacks not only in Rwanda, but against Tutsis in the DRC and other neighboring nations.  Furthermore, the aid given strengthened the Hutus, which in turn allowed them to continue shaking down the humanitarian groups for more money and goods.  (Polman)  All of this in the name of impartiality.


As Polman writes, this abuse of aid occurs all over the place.  A paper by Kristian Harpviken points out that it is a serious risk in any refugee camp.  These concentrated population centers often serve as breeding and recruiting grounds for militant and terrorist groups (Harpviken).  Not only are they given food and medicine, they have access to numerous new recruits and are protected by the presence foreign aid workers.  This happens because of this childish notion of impartiality.  These aid organizations come in and dole out food and medicine, and when the militias come knocking, they bend over.  We need to make an effort to stop this, to prevent refugee camps from being a political tool.  If aid workers concentrated on the actual victims as opposed to patching up every person running their way we might be able to accomplish this.  Another step could even be arming the aid workers or pushing for more UN support, anything to stop goods from entering the hands of militant groups.  As Lydia Poole highlights, the more money going into a conflict region, the more conflict increases.  This is because it only strengthens the fighting parties (Poole).  If humanitarian aid groups really want to help people, they need to take a close look at their policies and who they are helping.  Without a more controlled approach to aid they will only do more harm than good.

Works Cited

Harpviken, Kristian B. “GSDRC: Display.” GSDRC: Display. George Mason University, n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.

Polman, Linda, Liz Waters, and Linda Polman. The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print.

Poole, Lydia. “Humanitarian Aid in Conflict: More Money, More Problems?” Global Humanitarian Assistance. N.p., n.d. Web. 09 June 2013.



The Hidden Consequences of Global Humanitarian Aid Efforts

Organizations like the Red Cross make it their mission to distribute aid in a neutral and unbiased way, serving both sides of a conflict, and trying to remain as uninvolved in the political arena as possible. This stance is jeopardized however, when one side in a conflict uses the aid to benefit their cause, or withhold the same treatment from the enemy. When this occurs, the Red Cross plays an indirect, and yet crucial role in the direction in which a conflict plays out. Often times, the people that the aid is supposed to reach first and foremost, the civilian population, ends up receiving little if any of the supplies that they are intended to receive. Soldiers on both sides of the conflict often use humanitarian aid groups as free medical services, a source of food and clean water, and a means by which to continue fighting a war that might otherwise end, were it not for the aid projects that help to sustain the war effort. This indirect aid directed towards militaries and militias often causes prolonged and sometimes perhaps even worse suffering for the civilians in the war zone, as the conflict becomes more drawn out, and often times better funded. Polman discusses in The Caravan Crisis, how military groups often sell the aid that they either steal or coax out of NGOs, thus, increasing their war chests. This thievery allows militia groups to purchase weapons with the money they make from selling aid to those who need it, rather than simply allowing it to freely be distributed to the civilian population.

Aid is not always gender neutral, and it cannot be in an environment in which fighting men force their way into receiving aid above mothers and innocent civilians. Often times the systems are so corrupt that an extremely low amount of aid actually reaches its intended destination. Polman discusses how aid workers often have to bribe their way into the disaster areas and war zones, thus lowering the amount of aid they have to give. Then after being shaken down at checkpoints, the planes and vehicles that unload aid supplies are frequently robbed or subject to yet another checkpoint of bribery, until finally, whatever amount of aid is left reaches the civilian population. Polman describes one aid effort in Indonesia where, “Indonesian soldiers walked off with at least 30 percent of tsunami relief for the Aceh Province.” (Polman)

A crucial issue in the humanitarian aid world is the blurred line between development projects and immediate aid. The two are inextricably linked; it is impossible to begin development projects without the stability that comes from immediate aid, yet immediate aid often perpetuates instability by aiding and abetting corrupt governments and military groups. The difficulty that comes with this connectivity of these two kinds of aid is that it prevents NGOs from making long-lasting and creating a truly meaningful impact on the infrastructure of a country, because they cannot take the steps necessary to influence anything more than a temporary fix to a permanent problem.

It is not rare to find at the site of a recent disaster hundreds of aid organizations. Polman discusses in her TED talk that 10,000 aid organizations came to Haiti’s aid following its most recent natural disaster.  This outrageous number drives home the main issue that most donors have with humanitarian aid groups. As Janice Kopinak puts it in her article, Humanitarian Aid: Are Effectiveness and Sustainability Impossible Dreams? “Many stakeholders believe that humanitarian aid has been unsuccessful in delivering on these promises through lack of coordination and duplication of services,” (Kopinak)


Some of the "Blue Helmets" that Polman describes in her TED Talk. Some of these humanitarian workers inadvertently brought Cholera into the disaster zone in Haiti where they were deployed, actually exacerbating the problems there. Incidents like these beg the question, are we often times doing more harm than good?

Some of the “Blue Helmets” that Polman describes in her TED Talk. Some of these humanitarian workers inadvertently brought Cholera into the disaster zone in Haiti where they were deployed, actually exacerbating the problems there. Incidents like these beg the question, are we often times doing more harm than good?

Humanitarian aid groups must constantly be seeking out contracts in order to stay in business, and this often leads them to look not necessarily for where they can do the most good, but rather where they are going to be able to maintain their operation the best. The world has a rather short memory when it comes to global crises. Humanitarian efforts have to focus on the disasters that are most present in their donors’ minds if they have any hope of raising the proper funding to create a substantial aid campaign. This mild form of corruption at the humanitarian level, is not helped by the vast amount of corruption at the hands of local government officials and military groups within the countries those campaigns take place. Military factions often steal or force themselves to receive the aid first, government officials use their power to ensure that they are well provided for, and then the little of the aid that is left finally reaches the people who truly need it the most. This system of aid must be amended if it has any hope of making a powerful impact on the areas that it deploys to. Part of this problem stems from an issue that was discovered in a study by John Mitchell of the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Aid. Mitchell reported that the global humanitarian system, “lacked systematic means to evaluate collective performance.” (Pedroza) This lack of accountability on the part of humanitarian groups means that they have no solid means of tracking the benefits, or the harmful effects of the aid that they deliver. These results need to begin to be evaluated, so that the loopholes and problems with the global humanitarian aid effort can be solved.



Works Cited:



Pedroza, David. “Humanitarian Issues: How Effective is the Humanitarian Aid System” September 12, 2012. June 8, 2013.


Kopinak, Janice. “Humanitarian Aid: Are Effectiveness and Sustainability an Impossible Dream?” March 10, 2013. June 8, 2013.


Linda Polman. The Crisis Caravan: What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? New York: Metropolitan, 2010. Print.

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