The major concerns Linda Polman raises in her book, The Crisis Caravan, are the lack of regulation and standardization of humanitarian aid and a free market mindset amongst humanitarian organizations.
Currently, international law and enforcement of humanitarian standards is sparse. The international Committee of the Red Cross spells out international humanitarian law as applicable only for armed conflict by protecting those who are not participating in the conflict as well as restricting warfare from superfluous injury and indiscriminately killing others. This international humanitarian law is established in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and further built upon in other agreements in the international community like Protocols of 1977 and the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. Despite many agreements of countries and states, there is little compliance to the international humanitarian law as there is little discipline for those who violate the law.
Polman’s book confirms that there is little standardization and governing of humanitarian organizations around the world. Through research, I have found many entities that allow for aid firms to voluntarily commit to a standard of humanitarian principles without discipline like the CHS Alliance. This is a consultative agency that enforces the Core Humanitarian Standard which are 9 guidelines for humanitarian organizations to follow to increase accountability and transparency with its constituents. Membership and certification in CHS is voluntary and not mandatory of aid organizations. When its members do not follow the 9 guidelines, the organization must submit actionable ways it will move towards reaching the CHS commitments or its certification will be lost.
“The CHS can be used by communities and people affected by crisis as a guideline for what to expect from those organisations committed to implementing the CHS. Through this, organisations can be held to account directly by the people they seek to serve.”
The CHS Alliance is a small step towards a higher governing body for aid organizations. There are other governing bodies like UN’s financial tracking service that tracks reported money donated to fund specific response plans throughout the world or the International Aid Transparency Initiative that provides voluntary data of humanitarian resource use across the world. These organizations are reporting the money flow of donations used by aid organizations, but none truly regulate how these resources are used in crisis areas.
One organization, Caritas Australia, is working in Papua New Guinea on 11 projects dealing with education, community empowerment and health issues like HIV/AIDS. It is a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct, the Australian Council for International Development.
This is an example of a government regulating its humanitarian aid organizations. The compliance of the code is voluntary and specifies standards for accountability and transparency. Compliance is regulated through annual financial reports and self-assessments. Outside of this code, Caritas Australia is regulated by its own hierarchy. Is one code of conduct and self-regulation of entities like Caritas Australia enough? The answer is agreed by Polman with a resounding “No”.
The financial reporting of many aid organizations may not account for the food and money lost to warlords or other looting involved in the distribution of resources to a needy area. More in-depth reporting to a higher agency and in depth questioning of humanitarian organizations is needed to keep service standards high for crisis management around the world.
Journalists, the public, and governments as Polman argues need to find out if aid firms are truly using the resources for the intended purpose. Journalists need to interrogate organizations exact details of the purpose and how much warlords are benefiting from the humanitarian help. In fact, donating money to these organizations must be informed and purposeful to keep resources going to the people who need them. With the help of smaller governing entities like the CHS Alliance or the ACFID Code of Conduct and financial transparency firms like the International Aid Transparency Initiative, humanitarian organizations can be slightly regulated and held accountable for their work.
Although there is still a lot more regulation to be done, aid organizations around the world still need to help needy people. Humanitarian aid should not be stopped despite possible exploitation by warring parties or profit seekers. In Papua New Guinea, the work of the Banz Community Conversation program has reduced violence and helped increase HIV awareness and understanding among the people of the Jiwaka Province through Caritas Australia. Overall, there needs to be discretionary donating and movements towards higher humanitarian regulation to create a better impact on crisis areas and developing countries like Papua New Guinea.