28 March 2013

Aid and religion

I'm generally enough of an aid evangelist that I can put aside my rabid atheism when it comes to religious aid organisations. I suppose that makes me a bit of a consequentialist - when the need is so great, I don't really care about people's motivations as long as they are doing good.

But are they really doing good? A new paper by Niklas Bengtsson in Economic Development and Cultural Change looks at a village-level education project run by a church in Tanzania. They find substantial positive impacts on literacy and education attainment - but - only for the children of Protestants. The children of Catholics living in the same village were unaffected.

Now this wouldn't necessarily be a problem if these programs were all being funded with private donations, but close to a fifth of NGOs receiving support from USAID are Christian organisations, with apparently similar proportions from official donors in Europe. All of which is quite worrying.

Now maybe the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania is not typical of most religious aid organisations, and others are much better at providing assistance to people of different faiths, but it does raise some serious question marks. 


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