Passionate, intimate and moving, Nutt takes us to Somalia, the Congo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Liberia, Haiti and Sri Lanka and Burundi providing an insider's look at the state of humanitarian aid in these troublesome regions of the world. Naively most would believe that the aura of saintliness that aid organizations project protects them from being drawn into the conflict itself, but this is far from the case. Alas good intentions may not only be ineffective but in many ways can lead to a prolongation and even a worsening of conditions.
On the ground there are a multitude of issues. One is the lack of good governance on the ground in what are failed states. Aid organizations (including the UN) have to negotiate with the social structure that exists, which often include supplying, negotiating with, and turning a blind eye to war lords, profiteers, corrupt officials, and drugged out child soldiers. Another is that aid organizations are not that much different from corporations in that they compete more than cooperate with each other both for funding but for share of mind on the ground. Thirdly, first world aid tends to favour visible "high velocity" short term goals rather than underlying problems as these tend to attract more donations. In many cases aid can be counterproductive - for example donating clothes in Africa has destroyed the local garment industry; more than one agency offers the gift of a goat - except that goats tear away the roots of plants which leads to increased desertification. Orphanages and adoption? In places such as Haiti number of the children are simply abandoned by their parents - strengthening societal infrastructure so that parents can both plan for and raise children would be preferable, though the situation is made more complex in war zones. Nutt also targets voluntourism in as much as it is often used to make the first world participant feel better about about themselves, but involvement can sideswipe both the local labour economy and the local decision making processes that should lead to self sufficiency. Short term attachments may do more harm than good.
Nutt also inveighs against corporations who also need to deal the same corrupt infrastructure and wishes that here were a Kimberly style process for the rare minerals necessary for the manufacture of high end electronics coming from places such as the Congo. Refined metals are not as easily fingerprinted as diamonds. She also has guarded praise for aid distributed under military programs but wonders how sustainable the approach can be.
Outlining the problem is one thing - coming up with solutions is another. There is more than enough heartbreak - on more than one occasion Nutt recounts being prevented from suicidal attempts at rescue, which would likely have resulted in the death of the people with her as well. She also tells of the death of several local activists at the hands of insurgents. The book with some guidelines for donors but stops short of a definitive rubric - nor should one have expected anything but partial answers to such complex problems.