01 August, 2011

Books of Note: With Somalia in mind

On TVs, on the Net and on newspapers, the disaster unfolding in the Horn of Africa right now, is the most painful thing to watch or read. Millions of people are starving and they should be helped. But it is truly shocking and dismaying to have people, even those with noble intentions or claiming to have such intentions, use or turn such disasters or calamities into business opportunities or profit. Right now, hundreds of aid organizations and agencies are descending on the Horn of Africa. And thousands more, small agencies and individuals, are raising funds in mosques, in churches and from other sources. All these organizations, agencies and individuals are raising millions. But, how much of this will help feed the millions now starving in Africa? And how much of it will be used for administrative and logistical costs of these many agencies? Costs that might include high salaries, having expensive cars or banqueting on three-five course meals; or living in expensive hotels or houses? Or be pocketed by unscrupulous individuals who have no qualms about profiting from other people's suffering and misery?

Two very well researched, informative and superbly written books are a must read for anyone wanting to understand how the many, national and international, aid agencies and organizations - work and operate. And profit. From the many disasters and calamities that we continuously hear of around the world. Read: The road to hell: the ravaging effects of foreign aid and international charity ~ by Michael Maren; a very well, exhaustively researched book. Which paints development agencies as self-perpetuating opportunists, funding their significant overhead through the misery of the world's unfortunates. Or read: The Crisis Caravan: What's Wrong with Humanitarian Aid? ~ by Linda Polman; who says that an entire industry has grown around humanitarian aid, “with cavalcades of organisations following the flow of money and competing with each other in one humanitarian territory after another for the biggest achievable share of billions.”

Both books can be very painful and depressing to read. It is not to say that all aid agencies and organizations are bad; it is not to say that all those who raise funds for aid are crooks. All of us should help and aid. If we can. But, it is a fact that when disasters and calamities hit, and sometimes millions are affected as right now in the Horn of Africa - there are vultures out there; who feed and feast on such miseries. Personally, I have seen it. I know of it. As for Islam, like all other leading religions, it completely forbids us to profit from other people's misery or turning other people's suffering into business. Islam strongly commands us to be merciful. And aid and assist those in need or in pain or in misery.