Posted by: Jeff | August 18, 2010

Why Aren’t We Doing Anything for Pakistan, Cont’d.

I missed this, but Aid Watchers tackled this question earlier this week, including the implied connection between disaster relief and improving America’s public image in Pakistan:

This article raises several questions related to recent Aid Watch blog posts. First, has anyone quoted in the article examined the evidence for or against the hypothesis that giving disaster relief will improve the US’s image in Pakistan? As we blogged recently, there is startlingly little evidence at all on whether aid can “win hearts and minds,” but one of the few studies that exists looked specifically at the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. It found that even though US relief efforts were effective from a humanitarian perspective, they had no lasting impact on Pakistani perceptions.

Yes, it is true that there is no confirmed relationship between aid and public goodwill in Pakistan (though I would contend it hasn’t been given the thorough examination it deserves).  And there are many confounding variables – America’s relationship with Pakistan is complicated and variable, and for every dollar of aid given after the earthquake in Kashmir, there was a story about unmanned drones and violence in neighboring Afghanistan to counter rising approval.  Another factor is the relative geographic isolation of earthquake relief efforts – the earthquake primarily affected Kashmir, whereas flooding in Pakistan has affected up to 1/5 of the country.  Even though public approval for the United States did not go up by much nation-wide, was there a noticeable rise in favorable ratings within the affected area?

All of this is to say that helping can’t hurt.  And that failing to help now doesn’t win us any friends.

For what it’s worth, Aid Watchers does not suggest that bolstering relief isn’t worth it.  On the contrary:

Now this may sound hopelessly naïve, but here are some reasons the American government should be providing humanitarian assistance to Pakistan: This is an unprecedented disaster causing tremendous suffering and disruption for millions of Pakistani people. The ongoing floods that have submerged one-fifth of Pakistan under water have killed 1,500 people, destroyed crops and livestock, and have put as many as 6 million people at risk of dying from water-borne diseases in “a second wave of deaths” now predicted by UN officials.

If ever there was a time for US aid to demonstrate that it is NOT always and everywhere ONLY about US strategic interests, this would be a good time. And because it’s the right thing to do.

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