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Governments, aid agencies ignore too much misery

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 11/11/2011 (2105 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Damned Nations

Samantha Nutt

DUSTIN RABIN PHOTOGRAPHY

Samantha Nutt

Greed, Guns, Armies and Aid

By Samantha Nutt

McClelland & Stewart, 228 pages, $30

War zones are hot topics for Canadian authors this year.

Chris Alexander's The Long Way Back and Terry Glavin's Come From The Shadows, praised Canada's military role in Afghanistan.

While sharing Alexander's and Glavin's concerns about the fate of civilians embroiled in war, Toronto-based Samantha Nutt, the founder of the international humanitarian organization War Child and recent recipient of the Order of Canada, separates herself from their call to arms, stating, "Afghanistan will never be won militarily."

Nutt's experiences include conflicts in Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, and eastern Congo, leading her to conclude that modern wars tend to serve as self-perpetuating extremist hatcheries.

"The recruitment tools used by the Taliban, al-Qaida and Al Shabab," Nutt writes in this, her first book, a memoir of sorts, "are no different from those used by warlords the world over: money, a sense of belonging, and an alternative to victimhood."

When she was only 25 in 1995, recently graduated from medical school and a field volunteer for UNICEF, Nutt began a 15-year commitment in war-ravaged regions, providing hands-on care and recording her experiences.

Damned Nations offers a riveting account of those years. It features a plethora of personal life-threatening incidents and crisply quoted images.

Chilling accounts by victims of systemic rape and mutilation in flashpoints like eastern Congo and Sudan are deftly interwoven into Nutt's main argument that the international community continues to ignore the fate of women and children in such lawless, fractured, regions.

The book's subtitle refers to four problems Nutt identifies as the major deterrents to achieving law-abiding, peaceful societies.

She condemns African mining ventures for fomenting instability, showing how the race for "conflict minerals," like coltan and tantalum used in the production of cellphones and video games, has replaced the 1990s rush for "blood diamonds."

Nutt accuses national corporations from China of fostering "lawlessness, lax human rights standards and sordid abuses," while revealing that private Canadian mining companies in global explorations, "are involved in more than four times as many violations as the next two greatest offenders, Australia and India."

A chapter titled Paved With Good Intentions explains why victims of war don't carry the same appeal to charity as victims of natural disasters.

Nutt is critical of how UN agencies and international governments directed billions of dollars toward relief efforts following the South Asia tsunami and the Haitian earthquake, while squalid, lawless refugee camps in Darfur went begging.

She feels this dysfunctional aid system is what led to an incredible growth in the number and worth of private aid groups (NGO's).

World Vision and the Red Cross have changed from true humanitarian organizations into huge businesses, and worldwide today they "employ an estimated nine million people and have a combined annual budget of well over $1 trillion."

Television mass-marketing techniques, dubbed "poverty porn" by critics, show images of starving African children as pop stars croon in the background, but Nutt reminds us that our guilt-ridden donations rarely go to any individual child but usually to a nebulous community-development fund.

As befits a humanitarian like Nutt, the solutions she proposes to end the violence and dysfunction driven by greed and ideology are idealistic, for they would require a united effort by the entire international community.

Yet her call for a better-defined international doctrine that pledges to protect populations from genocide should give readers pause. Why, she asks, did we rush into Libya but still largely ignore Darfur and Congo?

Readers wishing to emulate Nutt's admirable attempts at making the world a better place will find a long list of humanitarian organization websites in this informative and inspiring book.

Joseph Hnatiuk is a retired teacher in Winnipeg.

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