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$3 billion in U.S. humanitarian aid buys little respect

March 7, 2012 |  1:13 pm

Aid to refugees in Darfus
Americans see themselves as generous people, and the dollars spent on humanitarian aid abroad bear that out.

So why don't others see us the same way?

Reporting on a new study of humanitarian aid by the group DARA, a nonprofit that has offices in Switzerland, Spain and the United States, The Times said Wednesday:

The U.S. ranked 17th out of 19 countries in aid effectiveness in the report, ahead of Luxembourg and Italy. Norway topped the list for the most effective aid.

Political and economic agendas have gotten in the way of help for suffering people, the group said. Foreign humanitarian groups overwhelmingly said they believed U.S. aid was driven by other economic or political interests, one factor that dragged down its rating….

The U.S. gives more money than any other country, more than $3 billion last year, according to the United Nations Financial Tracking Service. However, it gives a smaller percentage of its income (0.21%) than the 0.7% the United Nations has urged, the report says.

So, in a nutshell: We're the biggest donors, but apparently still not big enough, and those who use the money don't like the strings we attach to it or trust our motives. (Although the report doesn't mention any of them turning down the aid. I guess they just hold their noses when taking the money.)

Of course, the accusation that the United States uses foreign aid to further its political agendas isn't news.  For example, in an Op-Ed on Wednesday titled "Why Egypt doesn’t trust us," former Times staff writer Stanley Meisler talks about the troubled history of U.S.-funded pro-democracy groups such as the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, Freedom House and the International Center for Journalists.

Most Americans typically see these groups as working for positive change.  The Egyptians, and obviously other countries, see more sinister motives.

Whatever the truth is, it's troubling that, at least when it comes to humanitarian aid, the United States is viewed so negatively.  When $3 billion is being spent, it would be nice to know that it's actually doing some good. (And heck, it might even be nice that those getting the aid show a little appreciation.)

Perhaps we should examine what Norway is doing to earn that No. 1 spot. (Of course, it might be just that no one mistrusts Scandinavians, while plenty of people apparently mistrust Americans. Although try telling that to Dag Hammarskjold.)

Still, perhaps we could solve the problem by funneling our $3 billion to Norway, and let the Norwegians handle the rest.

We might not get the credit, but at least we might get more bang for our bucks.

And the Norwegians might even say "Thank you."

ALSO:

Israel stacks the legal deck

On Iran, patience and power

Jimmy Carter, shortchanged again

--Paul Whitefield 

Photo: Donated food is divided at a refugee camp in Darfur in 2004. Credit: Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times

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