What are the principal concerns Linda Polman raises in her book?
Linda Polman argues that people humanitarian aid has become a business of trade with elites that are most responsible for the war. She states that those who are most vulnerable do not get any benefit from the aid but rather that they are damaged by it; as a matter of fact, she points out that aid is often indirectly fueling violence, war, and poverty by getting in the hands of rebel, political or economic elites rather than used efficiently distributed to victims. Her key example is the Rwandan genocide, where aid supposedly flowed into the hands of Hutu militia and not to any Tutsi (although this is not to say it was the two groups of people responsible but rather the leaders of each of them).
Why does she say “Aid organizations are businesses dressed up like Mother Teresa” (p. 177)?
She points out that the impact does not line up with intentions. Aid organizations along with donors and foreign parties often make huge promises- and they truly do want to improve things- just in a very narrow minded way. This results in the impact of prolonging suffering. I agree with Polman, often times western aid organization are more interested in gratification and a sense of fulfillment in themselves than they truly are in stopping violence or providing care. The fact of the matter is that the aid organizations have made it a norm to align themselves with or be dependent on the people causing the wars. The people in control have the most power, so yes- it is quite difficult to surpass them to provide any form of aid; however, it is not impossible to ensure that the organization is truly independent. At least with that method, people are not going to be worse off. This is not to say that we leave the fate of the suffering in their own hands; we must change the existing system of unsustainable (or damaging) NGO/foreign aid. Polman states a good start being with demanding answers and being critical as citizens, donors, or journalists.
What do journalists, the public, governments have to do to make humanitarian aid successful?
All involved parties (which in some way, either directly or indirectly, is everyone) must be critical and intelligent in how aid is settled. To put it harshly, intentions do not matter, the impact does; sustainable execution of the distribution of the aid is key. A more practical approach must be taken: humanitarians must be held accountable for failing to act independently and thus worsening the situation for the indigenous populations; action and aid distribution must be tailored to each individual location, the western ideal of aid is not sustainable and often not effective to most in need; keep all options open- being apolitical or doing something to temporarily ‘save’ an individual is an often damaging plan. The example that she used was the Red Cross’s knowledge of concentration camps in Nazi Germany and their silence on it; all in the name of neutrality. Neutrality is not a possibility; if there is silence when there are people suffering then you are just as responsible for the suffering of the people.