Is Aid Trustworthy?

Foreign assistance and aid has been on the forefront of many organizations, nations, and institutions’ agenda, but are these initiatives cruel, self-interested schemes? Is this a method of “winning the hearts and minds” of the populace affected? Can people really trust the aid that is given by nations and institutions?

Jishnu Das & Tahir Andrabi, photos acquired from The Leaps Project, photo edited by Supal Desai

Jishnu Das, senior economist at the World Bank and Tahir Andrabi, professor of Economics at Pomona College, provide a presentation on their thesis, In Aid We Trust: Winning “Hearts and Minds” in the Islamic World at the Center for Global Development. The study focuses on the effects of foreign aid on local populations’ attitudes towards foreigners after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake in October 2005.

With an estimated 75,000 deaths and 2.4 million people significantly affected, global aid efforts made their debut with just over $5 billion worth of effort for rehabilitation. Das and Andrabi asked households a series of four questions dealing with trust, work compatibility, kindness, and an open ended question about organizations that helped that specific household.

Basankot, Settlements among a single village on the fault line of Northeast Pakistan, from http://www.kathryncramer.com

With great surprise, the results showed enormous variations between these settlements within the four districts Das and Andrabi obtained information from. As many as 203 foreign organizations were recalled and about 25% of households said they received foreign aid. Finally, the question we have been waiting for, does the populace trust the foreigners and their bags of money? Das indicates that the closer one goes to the fault line the more trust there is in foreign assistance, and the difference between the furthest district to the closest district’s [in proximity to the fault line]  trust is quite extensive ranging from 30 to 70 percent.  This can be identified on the image on the left, which is from Das and Andrabi’s presentation.  This image portrays one district and the pink highlights depict the individual settlements. The further you go from the fault line, the less aid a household received and the less trust their is on foreigners.

Thus, Das states it as it is, “the results clearly have important implications for how hearts and minds can be won in the Islamic world, or at least how trust can be rebuilt between Pakistan and the West.” Could aid be the source of all our international problems?

The discussion followed by the presentation focused primarily on the question: Is the US actually trying to win the “hearts and minds” of the populace? Ambassador Wendy Chamberlin was present at the event, who previously served as the Ambassador to Pakistan, and provided her insight on how various forms of aid has become blurred and that the US is becoming, unfortunately, more interested in “winning the hearts and minds.”  Andrabi then confirms that though these lines are blurred between different forms of aid, the amount of trust and belief in foreign assistance among deeply affected households are among the highest.  The numbers are critical and vast… So is the research worth of the title?  Possibly  so, In Aid we Trust.

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