The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
Humanitarian Business exposes the way aid agencies act at the behest of business and political interests
This book will be of interest to anyone who donates to a charity or responds to appeals for aid, whether for natural or man-made disasters.
Humanitarian Business reveals a shocking number of organisations jockeying for position and funds in a world dominated by politics and business - according to the UN Development there may be a jaw-dropping 37,000 international NGOs with some connection to the "crisis caravan."
While some may be put off from responding to the many desperate causes constantly in the news, what is truly disturbing is the number of them we never hear about.
The top underfunded appeals early last year were for Liberia, Cote d'Ivoire, Haiti, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Aid is a lottery and a country or region of central significance to a major power is most likely to get a winning ticket.
Aid organisations, like any business, want to thrive or at least survive in a very competitive market. This can be an issue when organisations decide where, and where not, to get involved.
What the book reveals is the need for co-ordination between aid agencies in a business where no-one wants to be co-ordinated.
Governments are the single most significant aid donor and they push their agendas through the power of the purse. They, and the mass media, wield great power as to how aid is collected and distributed
The scale of demand for humanitarian aid makes grim reading. According to one analysis WWI saw the death of 8.3 million soldiers and 8m civilians while during the second world war 23m soldiers were killed along with over 57m civilians.
Some analysts cast doubt on these figures but what is not in dispute is that in the wars of the 1990s to the present day, between 90 and 95 per cent of casualties are civilians. This indicates how the toll of innocent suffering has been increasing.
The book also offers suggestions and lessons, one being to learn by experience and collate and make hard-headed analyses of data to create policies and strategies.
Another is to use commercial organisations and the military to distribute aid.
Yet while military academies study and analyse methods of conducting war, there is evidently a need for humanitarian academies too.