Return on American Humanitarian Aid: They like Us

By Ken Ballen; David Caprara | The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2012 | Go to article overview
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Return on American Humanitarian Aid: They like Us


Ken Ballen; David Caprara, The Christian Science Monitor


As the United States approaches the fiscal deadline looming early next year, it is also time to assess the future and return on investment of American humanitarian assistance around the world.

There is a growing body of research to suggest that US humanitarian aid to developing nations results in substantial benefits to the US itself.

Beyond the self-evident worth of compassion toward those in need, global humanitarian assistance serves the self-interest of the US and other donor countries by substantially improving public attitudes about the giving nation, justifying such help in an era of growing budgetary constraints and slow economic growth.

First, there is clear evidence that large-scale disaster assistance can dramatically move public attitudes, as found in surveys by Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonprofit research organization in Washington.

For instance, two-thirds of Indonesians favorably changed their opinion of the US because of the generous American response to the tsunami in 2004. The highest percentage of that group was among those under age 30. Even 71 percent of self-identified Osama bin Laden supporters adopted a favorable view of the United States.

Moreover, as a direct result of the American effort, support for Al Qaeda and terrorist attacks dropped by half in Indonesia the worlds largest Muslim country. Even two years later, 6 in 10 Indonesians continued to state that American humanitarian aid made them favorable to the United States.

Second, more significant changes in public opinion can occur when American aid is targeted and focused on directly helping people in need and not foreign governments.

The US Navy ship Mercy is a fully equipped, 1,000-bed floating hospital, which while docking for several months in local ports in 2006, provided medical care to the people of Indonesia and Bangladesh. Nationwide polling in Bangladesh following the Mercys visit found that 87 percent of those surveyed said that the activities of the Mercy made their overall opinion of the US more positive.

In fact, Indonesians and Bangladeshis ranked additional visits by the Mercy as a higher priority for future American policy than resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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