Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Least Church-Going Rich Countries Give Most

Published on Tuesday, August 23, 2005 by Inter Press Service
By Jim Lobe
 

WASHINGTON - Nations where fewer people attend church tend to be more generous in their support for development in poor countries than those where church attendance is much greater, according to the third annual edition of the "Commitment to Development Index (CDI)", published this week in Foreign Policy magazine.

The Index, a joint project of Washington-based Foreign Policy and the Center for Global Development (CGD), found that Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, and Norway retained their top rankings among wealthy countries for their helpfulness to poor countries from last year. Italy, Ireland, Greece and Japan were the least helpful of the 21 countries ranked by the Index.

The Index also noted that both the 12 billion dollars in private and public aid pledged by wealthy countries and their citizens for victims of last December's devastating tsunami and the debt relief deal announced earlier this summer for some of the world's poorest countries contributed to improved performance by most donors.

At the same time, it stressed that both steps were actually quite limited in their impact when other factors, such as trade barriers, that also make up the complexity of interaction between rich and poor countries are taken into consideration.

It noted, for example, that the U.S. Treasury last year imposed nearly two billion dollars in tariffs on imports from the four countries that were most affected by the tsunami -- India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand -- twice the 900 million dollars in relief aid approved by the U.S. Congress for the same countries last May.

"If rich countries really want to commit themselves to improving the lives of citizens in tsunami-affected nations, they should end these taxes and other protectionist barriers as part of the current Doha Round of international trade negotiations," according to a Foreign Policy comment that noted the single-most far-reaching improvement in this year's Index derived from the abolition last Jan. 1 of quotas on textile imports by the U.S., Canada and the European Union (EU).

The Index assesses the performance over recent years of industrialized countries according to seven criteria -- public and private aid flows, trade, investment, migration, environment, security and peacekeeping, and technology -- that have a major impact on the welfare of poor countries. Scores for each criterion are then added up for each country to determine its ranking.

In addition, multiple factors may be used to determine the score within any given category. For the aid category, for example, Index analysts considered not only donors' total official development assistance (ODA) as a percentage of their gross domestic product (GDP), but also how much of their ODA was "tied" to the purchase of goods or services from donor nations, and how much they received in debt repayments, as well as private or charitable giving.

While the United States was the most generous in terms of its private giving -- citizens gave an average of six cents a day to private charities that financed overseas aid -- U.S. ODA averaged only 15 cents per day per person, bringing the total to 21 cents/day/person. By contrast, Denmark, the leading aid-giver, spent an average of 90 cents/day/person, 89 cents of which came from the government and only one cent from private sources.

In aid terms Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the Netherlands led the other 17 donor countries by a wide margin. The worst performer was Japan, followed by Italy, the United States, New Zealand, and Australia in that order.

With the exception of Japan, the worst performers on aid were the best performers on trade, according to the Index. New Zealand was found to have the most open market to developing country goods. It was followed by Australia, Canada, and the United States. Of the EU countries, Italy received the highest ranking.

Japan, on the other hand, had the most closed market, followed by Norway and Switzerland, according to the Index.

On investment policies -- both those that are designed to facilitate investment flows to poor countries and ensure that they promote development, top-ranking countries included Britain, Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany and the U.S., in that order, while the worst performers were Ireland, Austria, New Zealand, and Greece.

On migration, which assessed the net inflow of people from poor countries to wealthy ones, the aid provided by host governments to refugees and asylum seekers, and the percentage of students from developing countries among the total foreign student population, Switzerland and Austria tied for the highest ranking, followed by New Zealand and Germany. Portugal was the worst performer, followed by Greece, Japan, Italy and Finland.

On environmental policies, Britain was rated the best performer, followed by Germany, Portugal, and the Netherlands, while Japan was rated the worst, followed by the United States, Norway, and Canada.

On security, for which points were awarded for participation in peacekeeping operations and humanitarian intervention authorized by multilateral bodies, such as the United Nations or NATO, Australia and Norway tied for the top ranking, followed by New Zealand, Denmark and the Netherlands. Switzerland was ranked lowest, followed by France and Japan.

On technology, which was based on donors' support for non-military research and development programs, Canada, Finland, France received the highest marks, while Ireland and Greece trailed the pack.

Index researchers subsequently matched their results against the World Values Survey, which tracks social and cultural changes around the world, and found that those donor countries that were most supportive of development in poor countries were also less likely to have high rates of church attendance.

Denmark received the highest Index rating, yet only three percent of Danes attend church at least once a week -- the lowest attendance rate of all 21 donor nations. While church attendance rose to 14 percent in second-place Netherlands, Sweden (3), Norway (5), and Finland (6) all had church attendance rates well below 10 percent.

Meanwhile, the most religiously observant country, Ireland -- where nearly two-thirds of the population attend church at least once a week -- ranked 19 in the Index, while the next two most-observant nations, the United States and Italy, ranked 12 and 18, respectively.

"It's often said that one should love they neighbor as one lives oneself," according to Foreign Policy, which noted in reference to the Index findings, however, that "where there is more preaching, there is less practicing."

© 2005 IPS - Inter Press Service

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