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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Chris Sheach said...

Hi Lee, not to unleash any rabid theism here, but a few comments.

1. This case study focuses on a single denomination in a single country - a church. Yet, Bengtsson compares their actions to the USAID "Top Ten". Those "big guns" are not churches. Most are interdenominational, and even CRS and ADRA are relief agencies, not the church itself.

2. World Vision is not, as noted in the article, a Catholic organization, but was founded by an evangelical (who also founded Samaritan's Purse). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Pierce

3. The RCC and WVI both showed unbiased transfers in this case study, so not all faith-based orgs are bad, even in Kagera.

4. Bengtsson noted that "Catholics do not seem to be compensated from the Roman Catholic Church in villages
where the ELCT operates." This would perhaps imply that the RCC assumed coverage by the ELCT, otherwise they would have provided it.

5. Morally, wouldn't it still be a problem if this aid was privately funded? Should my adherence to a specific faith get me access to better private services? Isn't that a bit selfish, to say that injustice is okay, as long as it's not with my tax dollars?

5. This case study seems to be more a question of poor targeting, poor financial management of programs (not separating religious activity from foreign aid), and lack of evaluation, than raising serious question marks about the role of FBOs in foreign aid.

rovingbandit said...

Fair points, and yes probably unfair to generalise at all from this one case, but it does raise questions.

On point 5 - I have no problem with you deciding to spend your own money as a private donation on only one group of people, what people do with their private donations isn't really any of my business is it?

Chris Sheach said...

On point 5, I suppose it's the socialist in me that tends to disagree.

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