Busan High-level Forum on Aid Effectiveness: An opportunity not to be missed

Today’s post is from  Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. It is also published in the print edition of Das Luxemburger Wort on the occasion of Les Assises de la coopération luxembourgeoises

According to a recent UN report, $2.5 billion (approximately €1.84 billion) will be needed to respond to the devastating drought and famine that has hit the Horn of Africa. Although the international community is working hard to provide relief, funding is still short and aid is still arriving too slowly. Despite the participation of dozens upon dozens of aid and relief organizations, there is no likelihood that the situation will improve before the end of the year.

In a recent blog, my colleague Stephen Groff, Deputy Director of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, said: “the crisis in the Horn of Africa is indicative of development failure. Early warning systems predicted it a year ago.” Early and coordinated action could have produced countless savings—in terms both of costs and, more important, of human suffering.

We must learn from this situation, because it highlights many of the challenges we face today in an increasingly complex development landscape. Global challenges such as food insecurity, climate change and armed conflict cut across national borders and reinforce the notion that development is a truly global priority. And indeed, the number of organizations and countries working on development is greater than ever before. Yet at the same time, this burgeoning activity—and the broad range of instruments being used to promote diverse outcomes—have brought increased transaction costs, overwhelming developing nations’ capacity to cope.

In 2005, when donor and partner countries agreed on the Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, they signed up to a shared set of principles designed to reduce transaction costs, among other measures to improve the quality and impact of aid. The Paris Declaration was groundbreaking not only because of these guidelines, but also because it provided a series of time-bound, action-orientated commitments and targets against which partners agreed to be measured and monitored during the following five years.

Since 2005, these aid effectiveness principles have been embraced by developing countries, civil society organizations, international organizations, and donor countries alike. We have seen the Paris Declaration principles used as the foundation for a wide range of agreements, including the Bogotá Statement on South-South Cooperation (2010) and the Dili Declaration on Fragile States (2010). They have served as global norms for best practice, raised expectation levels from all sides working in development, and helped to focus divergent interests on ambitious but measureable goals.

Ensuring value for the money we spend on aid and development can mean a lot. A recent study funded by the European Commission estimates that a more ambitious application of the Paris Declaration principles and the subsequent Accra Agenda for Action—agreed in 2008 to accelerate implementation on key targets—would have saved the EU and its member states over €5 billion. The direct benefits on the individual donor side would have included reduced administrative costs, more cost-effective sourcing of goods and services, and more predictable and useful aid flows; numerous indirect effects in recipient countries would also have been expected. What’s more, should the EU countries have found the political will to coordinate their allocations of aid to countries, this €5 billion in savings would have more than doubled.

This represents, of course, a huge lost opportunity. And while the evidence gathered in the last round of monitoring of the implementation of the Paris Declaration shows us that we are headed in the right direction, progress is modest and reforms are far too slow in coming. Stronger leadership and sustained political commitment is needed to drive changes in both donor and developing countries. All partners in development must be willing to take ownership of their development agendas and hold each other accountable as they work together toward common goals.

The upcoming Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF-4) in Busan, Korea (29 November-1 December 2011) will offer an opportunity for the international community to renew, refresh and reshape as necessary its commitments to making aid and development work better. The Busan forum is underpinned by developing countries’ demands for effectiveness—and for ownership of their own destinies. It is designed to push the development community to act in a more rational, less fragmented, form.

This is an opportunity not to be missed. With the unprecedented number of people coming to Busan—leaders from donor and developing countries, international organizations, civil society organizations, parliaments and business—we have a chance to forge a truly inclusive and effective partnership around development.

Let’s not make this another story—like the Horn of Africa—of missed opportunity and human tragedy, or the subject of another report on what could have been saved.

Useful links

 OECD work on aid effectiveness including the Paris Declaration and the Accra Agenda

Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness Busan, Korea, 29 November – 1 December

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