Book Review: No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis


No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis is a Biography/Autobiography written by author Denis Dragovic, a former humanitarian aid worker from 2000 to 2010 with CHF International, a US-based humanitarian organization now known as Global Communities. Dragovic’s book is based on his return visits to Iraq, South Sudan, and East Timor a decade after he left the international aid industry. The purpose of his return was to follow-up on the work he had undertaken in rebuilding the countries left devastated by war. Although he was no longer with CHF International, Dragovic was driven by a personal conviction to see for himself what existed of the people and the projects he engaged in while he was an aid worker. What he discovered on his return journey to Iraq, South Sudan, and East Timor by talking to the few people that had not departed their community, and revisiting the programs initiated to improve the livelihood of the communities impacted him and changed his view of the international aid industry.

NOTE: CHF International, now Global Communities is only one of many International Aid Programs. For Instance, Dragovic talks about The International Rescue Community (IRC) which is made up of numerous international aid programs. What I found striking is while all the International Aid Sites I googled claimed to be “International Non-Profit Organizations that work closely with communities worldwide to bring about sustainable changes that improve the lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable.” Or words very similar to this, it does not appear to be the case after reading No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis. The Western Governments are widely entrenched as the governing bodies and make the decisions pertaining to global humanitarian aid.

Upon Googling the IRC I read their statement of who the IRC is, “The International Rescue Committee helps people whose lives and livelihoods are shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover, and regain control of their future.” While on the  IRC website, including taking a look at their Board of Directors and Overseers, the listing included numerous aid organizations, one organization still listed is Global Humanitarian Forum which appears to have lasted from 2007 to 2010 when it was “obliged to shut down due to a lack of money and indebtedness.” Many other names and organizations on the list got my attention:  The 75th U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Morgan Stanley, American Express, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Pfizer Inc., Michael Blumenthal (former Secretary of the US Treasury) Senior Vice President of Bank of America, and too many Holding Companies to list. The list is enough to verify the government’s involvement.

But returning to Dragovic’s return journey to Iraq, South Sudan, and East Timor for him to see firsthand if the work he provided over his tenure in each geographic locale had endured after the humanitarian aid packed up and left. What Dragovic found was that all his efforts had come down to mostly being a temporary band-aid on the geographic localities he was assigned. Denis Dragovic did everything with heart, and in his power, he could do, the failing was not on him but rather on those on the other end making all the decisions.

Regardless of the various aid organizations claims “of being International Non-Profit Organizations that work closely with communities worldwide to bring about sustainable changes that improve the lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable,” as I previously mentioned, this is untrue as you will discover by reading Denis Dragovic’s eye-opening book. Those on the other end making all the decisions was the government. They decided when there was a humanitarian need, how much money would be provided to the individual aid organization along with a time frame and what could and could not be done. The money, which was never enough to “bring about sustainable changes that improve the lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable” had to be dispersed to cover health, safety, education, economic well-being, and much more.

Dragovic writes, “The money we had received for this grant was from the United States Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, whose mandate is ‘saving lives, alleviating human suffering, and reducing the social and economic impact of disasters’, while the next office along in the chronology of development, the Office of Transitional Initiatives, is the one tasked with ‘helping local partners advance peace and democracy [by providing] short-term assistance targeted at key political transition and stabilisation needs.’ Having received money from OFDA rather than OTI meant that our contracts were shorter, limited in scope and bound by measures of success that were formulated so that they could feed into OFDA’s global indicators of success. We needed to save lives and alleviate human suffering not help local partners. So we went for the logistical nightmare that would lead to finishing the job quicker at the expense of building local markets, supply chains and trades skills, but where we could we did our best to balance the two competing demands.”

Anyone who has been part of a government organization knows band-aids are status quo. From personal experience, it is easy for me to equate humanitarian aid to military involvement in the same light as Dragovic’s book. It should be just as easy for all citizens. In his book, Dragovic talks about the urgency to fix the humanitarian crisis in detail. He wrote of South Sudan, “In South Sudan, the international community had rushed in to provide aid during the conflict when human suffering was at its peak and by all accounts in both countries succeeded in their responsibilities. As the fighting subsided and the humanitarian crises passed, the aid industry was supposed to, at least on paper, transition away from lifesaving support to longer-term development by adopting transitional programming—small-scale activities that should grease the wheels of long-term development as it rolls into town. This did not occur as planned. Transitional programs such as the one in Mundri/Lui clearly required long-term commitments but were hampered by short-term contracts and donor expectations of immediate, quantifiable results. Returning to South Sudan five years after the transitional program was expected to have paved the way for long-term projects, I found none. They were there, somewhere, operating through expatriates based in regional centers driving in for a day and then returning back to the sanctuary of their compounds. These projects were mainly focused on building the capacity of the government. But gone were the projects that worked to strengthen communities from within the community, helping people to help themselves instead of relying upon the government. These projects had ended as quickly as they had come, ours being the last in the area.”

The key words here are “this did not occur as planned.” There was no longer-term developmental, transitional programs that included providing the essential life-sustaining support of food sources, housing repairs or kits, hospital repairs to include equipment and supplies, water treatment facilities and more. However, the real need was to provide those left with the training to care for themselves and their communities when the humanitarian aid workers were gone. This training should include running and repairing essential facilities such as water processing plants, providing food sources whether managing the development of fish ponds or clearing land and growing crops. This takes time; a band-aid is not going to hold up. Neither is focusing on developing governments or forcing our will upon the people. Humanitarian aid should always include a means of helping people help themselves instead of expecting the government to provide for the people. This is a significant problem. The aid workers do what they can and leave too soon.

Dragovic believes there are those operating in South Sudan as contractors with community support who are there when there is money and leave when the money runs out. This is not representative of the people of South Sudan, but it is representative of the international communities relevance. It is a problem that reaches across the globe. As such, we cannot brush it off with a wave of the hand and say, “It is their problem,” because it is as much our problem.

War is devastating to a society. We know this from first-hand accounts of going to war. We’ve either been sending our loved ones off to war or have gone ourselves since World War I, and we continue to deploy to Africa, Iraq, Afghanistan to name a few. We know what war does to those who go to war, whether a soldier, support staff or leader. Our country has not been left in squalor, without food, water, medical facilities, material, equipment and the knowledge of how to recover. Although, the citizens of Puerto Rico know not from war but the devastation of their entire island what it’s like to be on the other side. And as  U.S. citizens what is happening, or more appropriately put, what is not happening is shameful. In his novel, Dragovic tells us, “These wars are the most devastating as they destroy the social fabric of a society. The wealthiest flee at the outbreak, saving themselves and their relatives, transferring cash, selling assets and moving to neighbouring countries or the West. The poorest tend to leave last, if at all, as they have fewer resources with which to start anew, so they remain behind, buffeted by the winds of war. The young, having missed years of education are shell-shocked and traumatised, a generation or two or even three, lost. People who have lived most of their lives accustomed to the vagaries of conflict don’t plan for the future.”

I encourage everyone who reads this blog to purchase a copy of NO DANCING NO DANCING: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis by Denis Dragovic. It is not fiction, it is real life, and it can affect all of us. We hear of crises, and we remain glued to the TV until there is no more information and then we lose interest. We watch from afar and feel bad for a while, but we are not affected, so we stop thinking about what it’s like for those suffering and in need of humanitarian aid. Wars and catastrophes are happening around the world. But our global humanitarian aid system is failing the people. The system is broken for all the reasons I have given and so many more, but you can and should read about in Dragovic’s book. We have a responsibility to know what’s happening in other countries and to their people. Syria is a perfect example, but Dragovic addresses the state of Syria in his book.

When you read No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis, you will read about the dangers of being a humanitarian aid worker. You will read first-hand accounts Dragovic had with an angry Anti-American Ayatollah, slave traders, resistance fighters, negotiating the release of a kidnapped aid worker and so much more. I can’t say it enough, I strongly recommend you read Dragovic’s book.  The world is changing, and you will look at the world through new eyes after reading this book.

Dr. Denis Dragovic is an author of literary and scholarly works on humanitarian aid and rebuilding countries after the war. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the University of Melbourne, and a Senior Member on Australia’s Administrative Appeals Tribunal hearing appeals from asylum seekers denied protection. He is a fascinating man who cares, and you can get a glimpse into whom he is through his website and be sure to also visit him on Facebook.

NO DANCING NO DANCING: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis is available for purchase from the following bookstores:

Barnes & Noble

I am embarrassed to bring this up but how can I review a book on humanitarian aid and not consider how hurricane Maria severely maimed Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States with 3.4 million residents? Recently, a Harvard study estimated the death toll in Puerto Rico is 4,600. According to a Yahoo News Report last night (June 6th, 2018), “White House press secretary Sarah Sanders defended the Trump administration’s response to last year’s hurricane in Puerto Rico. Sanders said the government’s reaction “was at a historic proportion” in response to a question from Yahoo News about whether President Trump still felt he deserved a perfect score for handling the damage in light of a new study that estimated nearly 5,000 people died in the storm’s aftermath. “The federal response once again was at a historic proportion. We are continuing to work with the people of Puerto Rico and do the best we can to provide federal assistance, particularly working with the governor there in Puerto Rico and will continue to do so,” Sanders said. Puerto Rico did not receive a band-aid. Is this an indicator the world is suffering a global humanitarian crisis or is this because the United States government left Puerto Rico to ride out Hurricane Maria on its own? And while Puerto Rico is not war-torn, although it may as well be, as they remain in need of humanitarian aid while the government is satisfied with the assistance Puerto Rico has received.

In a Vox article titled What Every American Needs to Know About Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Disaster by Brian Resnick and Eliza Barclay, updated October 16, 2017. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is quoted in this article as saying, “Make no mistake — this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens.” It also speaks to our reaction, “The initial recovery response from the US federal government has been lackluster, and President Trump’s comments have not inspired confidence.” We just entered Hurricane season 2018 and water and electricity are still scarce. The Guardian wrote, “Islanders are angry about perceived US indifference.” I brought Puerto Rico up because although they were not at war, they were left in a war-torn state after the hurricane that resulted in 4,600-5,000 deaths. This is to give you an idea of the need for long-term humanitarian aid. Band-aids do not work.  We know this, and yet we continue to slap band-aids on a disaster instead of using humanitarian aid as it should be utilized.

3 thoughts on “Book Review: No Dancing, No Dancing: Inside the Global Humanitarian Crisis

  1. A very intriguing review. There is so much work to be done both here, in America, and around the world, yet the recovery and aid seems to get mired down in red tape and corruption. Is there a way to finish what we start without domestic and foreign governments pulling strings and disrupting efforts?

    Liked by 1 person

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