Crisis Caravan Book Summary - Crisis Caravan Book explained in key points
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Crisis Caravan summary

Linda Polman

What’s Wrong with Humanitarian Aid?

4.3 (12 ratings)
16 mins

Brief summary

Crisis Caravan by Linda Polman gives a unique perspective on humanitarian aid. She shows how aid often increases violence and corruption, making the situation worse for the people it intends to help.

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    Crisis Caravan
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    Modern aid organizations often fail to stick to humanitarian principles because they’re now commercial enterprises.

    What first comes to mind when you hear the term “humanitarian aid”? Probably, you think of the ICRC – the International Committee of the Red Cross.

    Founded in 1863 by Henri Dunant, the Red Cross was the first Western humanitarian aid organization, and countless other aid organizations have sought to emulate its commitment to the principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.

    Unfortunately, however, today’s organizations often fail to uphold these principles. This became clear in 1994, during the Rwandan genocide, when Hutus slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Tutsis.

    When armed Tutsi forces tried to fight back, thousands of Hutus fled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 250 aid organizations provided them with medical care, food and shelter in refugee camps in Goma. The organizations present included various UN groups, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, Oxfam and several branches of Caritas and CARE.

    These refugee camps effectively served as strategic centers for the armed Hutu forces, who then carried out further killings of the Tutsi people. The extremist Hutu government simply relocated to Goma and continued the genocide.

    The aid organizations knew about it, too, and failed to stick to the principle of neutrality by siding with the Hutus.

    This happened largely because humanitarian organizations are now commercial enterprises.

    Consider what happened when an Irish aid organization tried to cut down on supplies in protest of Hutu violence. When they stopped giving out extra soap and mattresses, another organization swooped in and started giving them out.

    Aid organizations, instead of working together, are often in competition. They incur sky-high costs, so once they set up in a crisis zone, they try to earn back as much of their investment as possible, which they can only do by winning donor contracts. In the competition for donations, humanitarian principles are often set aside.

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    What is Crisis Caravan about?

    The Crisis Caravan (2011) is about the complexities and pitfalls that come with delivering humanitarian aid to conflict zones. Though aid is usually provided with nothing but good intentions, there are political, social and economic obstacles that can cause it to do more harm than good. These blinks outline the reasons aid work often fails, and offer advice on how we can improve it.

    Crisis Caravan Review

    Crisis Caravan (2010) by Linda Polman sheds light on the dark side of humanitarian aid. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • The book offers a thought-provoking critique of the humanitarian industry, challenging our assumptions about its impact and effectiveness.
    • Backed by extensive research and firsthand reporting, Polman exposes the complexities and dilemmas faced by aid organizations in war zones and conflict-ridden areas.
    • With its compelling storytelling and vivid descriptions, the book manages to make the often-overlooked world of aid work engaging and enlightening.

    Best quote from Crisis Caravan

    For the aid organizations in Goma it was a matter of feed the killers or go under as an organization.

    —Linda Polman
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    Who should read Crisis Caravan?

    • Students of politics or conflict studies
    • Anyone who has donated money to a humanitarian organization
    • People thinking of working in humanitarian aid

    About the Author

    Linda Polman is a journalist with over fifteen years of experience reporting from war zones. She is the author of We Did Nothing: Why The Truth Doesn’t Always Come Out When The UN Goes In, which was shortlisted for the Lettre Ulysses Award for the Art of Reportage.

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    Crisis Caravan FAQs 

    What is the main message of Crisis Caravan?

    The main message of Crisis Caravan is the exploitative nature of humanitarian aid.

    How long does it take to read Crisis Caravan?

    The reading time for Crisis Caravan varies based on the reader's speed. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Crisis Caravan a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Crisis Caravan is worth reading for its critical examination of the humanitarian aid industry.

    Who is the author of Crisis Caravan?

    Linda Polman is the author of Crisis Caravan.

    What to read after Crisis Caravan?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Crisis Caravan, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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