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Prof. Andrabi Study Finds Foreign Aid Had Big Impact on Pakistani Trust of Foreigners

Economics Professor Tahir Andrabi, with his research partner Jishnu Das, of the World Bank, is co-author of one of the first empirical studies on the effect of foreign emergency relief in Pakistan. Their research found that the influx of foreign humanitarian aid, especially the presence of aid workers, following the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan, had a significant and continuing impact, increasing survivors’ trust in foreigners and their willingness to work together to help strangers.

Now that “winning hearts and minds” in the Islamic world is an explicitly acknowledged U.S. foreign policy goal and catastrophic flooding has hit Pakistan, a hotly debated policy question is how much can humanitarian aid further the goal of showing another side of international intervention.

“The policy implications are significant,” says Andrabi. “A large intervention, during a humanitarian crisis, when aid is delivered directly by foreign organizations, has a significant and lasting positive effect on people’s attitudes towards foreigners.”

“My sense is that the real issue is what happens to the silent majority in the Muslim world,” adds Andrabi. “If they believe and trust in the goodness of foreigners, then they are less likely to be radicalized. The world becomes a safer place because you are changing hearts and minds.”

The Associated Press and the Foreign Policy Journal have been among the numerous news outlets to write about the study and its policy implications.

Andrabi became involved in relief work in Pakistan in 2005 when he spent time in the earthquake zone immediately after the quake and was very involved in designing coordinating mechanisms for earthquake relief. In December 2005, there was a particularly desperate battle to get people into shelters before the winter months, and organizations worked around the clock to clear roads, provide tin roofs using helicopters and trucks and distribute food and medicines to affected populations.

The foreign aid study, conducted in 2009, began with a census of 28,000 households in 126 villages in the earthquake zone, using a brief questionnaire on socioeconomic and household characteristics and asking about the presence of different organizations that helped the household recover. The second part was a more detailed field-survey, of a 10 percent random sample of households, that included attitudinal questions—trust in foreigners, the ability of different races, religions and ethnicities to work together and people's belief in the kindness and helpfulness of foreigners—as well as questions on the aid they had received.

Based on that data, the study found that four years after the quake, local attitudes towards foreigners, and towards Europeans and Americans in particular, improved dramatically closer to the fault line and that the effect was due to foreign aid delivered directly by foreign aid workers on the ground.

“Reports on the number of foreign organizations and foreign individuals who came to help decreases with distance from the fault line in precisely the same manner as trust,” states an early version of the report. “Controlling for the presence of foreigners in the village significantly reduces the relationship between trust and distance to the fault line suggesting that it was 'boots-on-the-ground' rather than foreign funds that changed population attitudes. Second, there is no relationship between distance to the fault line and attitudes towards local populations—people in ones' own village, region, extended family or caste/clan, ruling out a general increase in trust as a consequence of the earthquake… Interestingly, in contrast to media reports and popular perception, aid provision by militant organizations was extremely limited both in terms of geographical coverage and the number of households that reported such assistance.”

Christian Science Monitor, Sept. 22, 2010
“Pakistan: Study Shows Appreciation of US Disaster Aid”

“Foreign Policy, Sept. 20, 2010
“Not at the Forefront of Flood Relief”