Maren hurls stinging accusations and makes them stick: He paints development agencies (such as CARE) as self-perpetuating opportunists, funding their significant overhead through the misery of the world's unfortunates. Drawing on his own experience as an aid worker and journalist in Somalia and on the disastrous professional relationship there of aid worker Chris Cassidy with the relief organization Save the Children, Maren examines the economic and humanitarian damage done, ironically, by the very organizations that distribute free food or administer development projects in the name of famine relief. Somalia, of course, recently saw one of the world's largest mobilizations of humanitarian aid. But approximately two thirds of food shipments for refugees in Maren's area of Somalia were being stolen. Some of the stolen food was sold on the black market in order to purchase arms, which in turn escalated conflicts, often creating more refugees. Foreign aid destroyed what was left of local markets by flooding the country with cheap or free food, thus ruining the livelihood of many farmers. Others became ``rich from food''; one Somali referred to his second wife as ``CARE wife,'' because the overabundance of relief food he sold enabled him to marry again. Free food also created a disincentive for development- project participants. Somali nomads, for instance, traditionally disdainful of farming, were unlikely to take up agriculture when food was plentiful. Throughout, Maren unleashes caustic salvos against the relief industry—with substantiation. The book is tenaciously and passionately researched through interviews with key players and references to primary documents. Much of what Maren uncovers is shocking, some of it surreal. The agency AmeriCares, for instance, often serves corporate rather than relief interests; it sent 17 tons of Pop Tarts to Bosnia and 12,000 Maidenform bras to earthquake victims in Japan. An uncompromising look at the thriving industry of relief agencies—which may do more harm than good to those they purport to serve.
Read full book review >