The Cycle of Corruption

In Polman’s book, War Games, she depicts the numerous problems with humanitarian aid. They appear in many different forms, but none are more evident than corruption. Corruption rears its ugly head throughout all channels of the aid effort – governments, media, humanitarian aid organizations, donors, all the way to the people receiving aid. All of them manipulate the positivity of the effort and use it for their own personal gain. For example, Polman states:

“Humanitarian crises are almost always political crises, or crises for which only a political solution exist. When donors, militias and armies, not least our own national or NATO armies, play politics with humanitarian aid, NGO’s cannot afford to be apolitical” (Polman 159).

The predictability of the humanitarian organizations in responding to the need of aid leads to governments, or militias, being able to manipulate the system for their own gain. They are able to create a false need of aid or use humanitarian aid as a war strategy. In Rwanda, the Hutu’s were receiving aid while they were the actual group attempting to stamp out the Tutsi’s. The Hutu’s were able to strategically retreat to Goma and humanitarians responded incorrectly by providing aid. The Tutsi’s were left with the rotting corpses after the attempted genocide was stopped and the Hutu’s were defeated. The predictability of humanitarian aid allowed to Hutu’s to strategically retreat and rebuild while receiving aid. The Hutu’s were prospering, financially and physically, while the Tutsi’s remained crippled in Rwanda. The media coverage in Goma portrayed the situation incorrectly and supported aiding the Hutu’s in Goma.

When it comes to coverage of humanitarian aid efforts, the media steers away from their obligation as unbiased reporters. They accept the opportunity to cover the stories presented to them by humanitarian organizations, which commonly cover the costs or a great deal of the expenses of the trip, without questioning specifics. They want to report the tragedy presented to them like the suffering Hutu’s in Goma, without first finding out the whole story. The humanitarian organizations use the media as their own personal advertisement to boost the donors supplying their effort.

Humanitarian aid organizations utilize the media to take their cause to the public. They use the publicity as advertisement to attract donors to support their cause. They in turn use this as their influx in cash, without restrictions or accountability to where or to whom it goes. A good example of this is Afghanistan, where the humanitarian aid organizations would subcontract work out, but not before siphoning off a portion for themselves. This would continue until the final product, if it reached the intended source at all, would only be but a fraction of its intended value.

People receiving aid, some not all, have caught on to what is “profitable” and what it takes to get the media there. Donors typically want to be associated with the current effort in the media. They are able to dictate where their money goes, at least in part. This need for recognition leads to the money being put towards the most publicized aid effort, which is not always the one that needs it the most.

The end product turns out to be a vicious circle of corruption. Humanitarian aid organizations are not the only responsible party in this circle, but they benefit without accountability and without factoring in the total impact it will have.


Works Cited:

N.d. Graphic. n.p. Web. 11 Jun 2013. <>.

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

Walker, Peter, and Daniel Maxwell. “Confronting Corruption in humanitarian aid: Perspectives and options .” U4 Brief. 3 (2009): n.       page. Web. 11 Jun. 2013. <>.

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  1. Posted June 13, 2013 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    In the beginning of your post, I thought it was interesting when you talked about how most areas in need of humanitarian aid are usually in the midst of a political crisis. I especially liked the Polman quote you used. I would’ve liked to see you go more into detail about how aid can be ineffective in a region that is more in need of a political fix than a boost in development assistance.

  2. Posted June 12, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I like how you connected the use of media and it’s reports and tied it in with humanitarian aid receiving more funds. Some many people in our world are naive to the fact that what the media reports is not always true. If someone without this knowledge saw a report on a country needing humanitarian aid, I definitely think they would find a way that they could donate to help the cause, which might not actually be that bad. I like that you brought up the fact that the media and humanitarian aid funds could be connected because I would definitely agree.

  3. Posted June 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I agree that the media’s short attention span is unfortunate and that the exploitation of suffering, or reporting without a call for intervention is a disappointing aspect of news coverage.

  4. Posted June 11, 2013 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    You made a really good summary of the interconnectedness of corruption within this industry, but I think something I would have liked from your post is perhaps how we can step past this, or perhaps how we won’t be able to. What this summary all means is what I am missing, sure, there is corruption, but what can we do about it as global citizens.