At Work in the Fields of Anarchy
An extraordinary story of courage, tragedy and farce in one of the world's most dangerous civilian jobs - working for the UN and responding to humanitarian emergencies.
In 1998, on the lookout for adventure and willing to take a risk, John Burnett left the comforts of the mainstream and became a UN relief worker in Somalia. He was completely unprepared for the realities of working in a country without government or law, where the only authority comes from a loaded gun. Held at gunpoint by a child soldier, having to watching a baby die of malaria in his arms, the experience profoundly changed the way he saw the world.
“'The book speaks well to the complicated web of motivations involved with relief work in high-risk zones. Be it altruism or ego, a desire for adventure or isolation, the compulsion for relief workers to leave lives of relative comfort for dangerous war zone makes for a compelling take on human motivation'”
“'Engrossing... [Burnett] understands the mix of altruism, adrenalin, financial reward and companionship that drives many aid workers... He sees the way that the various aid agencies (even competing UN agencies) work against each other to gain credit and press exposure. And he learns, through bitter experience, how savage people can be when they are desperate.'”
“'Part reportage, part memoir, part polemic, Burnett's account of his misadventures in Somalia is a journey into a heartless darkness. This book is a tough and often painful read not simply for it's wrenching accounts of human suffering and bureaucratic incompetence, but also because Burnett documents, with admirable lack of self pity, his own loss of innocence through its various stages of shock, bewilderment, incredulity, frustration and contempt.'”
“'Haunting...Burnetts message is simple, and it is not new: being an aid worker in the field is dangerous... Different is the clarity and passion with which he delivers it.'”
Caroline Moorehead, Sunday Telegraph