Hunger: The fifth season

Famine killed 1 million people in Ireland in the 19th century

Spring, summer autumn, winter, hunger. Niger has an official fifth season, running from mid-June to late September. It’s the time when last year’s food stocks are depleted and this year’s aren’t available yet.

It’s been like that for centuries, and the population, whether nomadic herders or farmers growing rainfed crops, has strategies to cope. But they can only cope with so much. This year the hunger season arrived early, after a particularly harsh drought destroyed last year’s crops and pastureland.

Nearly 12 million of the country’s 15 million people are now suffering from food insecurity, and child malnutrition has reached 50% in some areas. Nationwide, almost 400,000 face starvation according to Save the Children, and 1.2 million face “moderate” malnutrition.

Talking about a hunger season makes the famine sound natural, but despite the drought, it isn’t. There is food in the markets, but as the prime minister put it “the purchasing power of the people is very weak”.

This echoes what we wrote here: hunger is a problem of poverty, not scarcity. The World Food Programme also ranks poverty as the main cause of Niger’s vulnerability, pointing out first that the country ranks bottom in the 2009 UNDP Human Development Index, and second that the “donor community” could do a lot more. “To scale up its work in Niger WFP is appealing for US$213 million.  Currently it is less than half funded and faces a shortfall of US$145million.”

Emergency aid is vital in the short term, and so is improving the resilience of farmers. Scientific research can help here. A special feature in this week’s Nature looks at the research into new crops and new farming techniques,. It argues for a second green revolution, implying a realignment of priorities in agricultural research, notably on new crop varieties, as well as lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste.

But experience from a number of countries shows that while the agriculture sector is important, it is highly unlikely to eradicate poverty, and thus hunger, on its own. The objective should be to ensure that people, and countries, can buy enough to eat, not necessarily that they become self-sufficient. 

Useful links 

Article on food security in the OECD Observer

OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook

Markets, prices and food security: what will the future bring? Background note for OECD ministerial meeting on agriculture

Afghanistan at the crossroads

Click on the image to go to the Kabul Conference website

As the Kabul International Conference on Afghanistan brings together representatives from over 70 partner countries, Sarah Cramer and Asbjorn Wee of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate look at what’s been achieved and what remains to be done 

Nine years after the international community supported the establishment of a new government, Afghanistan now stands at a crossroads.

In the midst of questions about the future of the international military operation to stabilise the country, the first international donors conference to actually take place in Kabul will hopefully result in the acceptance of the first ever Afghan government-led plan for improved development, governance, and stability.

Afghanistan has been the testing ground for donor efforts to increase aid effectiveness and mutual accountability in post-conflict situations. Assessment of post-conflict needs has resulted in the establishment of a joint plan, pooled funding instruments, budget support, etc. Importantly, it has also been the laboratory for improvements in “whole-of-government” approaches to stabilisation and development, such as through the use of Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs ). The conference as such is an opportune moment to take stock of these experiences and highlight changes needed.

Afghanistan was one of the six countries that participated in the 2009 monitoring survey of the Fragile States Principles (FSP). This process brought different stakeholders together for a frank discussion about how donors are adhering to the FSPs, and now seems an apt time to review the five key principles identified by participating stakeholders as most pertinent for Afghanistan, as the Afghan Government and donor countries gather for this important stage of the “Kabul Process” of shifting toward full Afghan leadership and responsibility.

Take Context as a Starting Point (FSP 1): While there is a growing consensus that taking context as the starting point is essential for better engagement in Afghanistan, opinions diverge on what that context is, some seeing Afghanistan as a country at war and others seeing the country in post-conflict terms. A unified understanding of context will need to be developed in order to achieve a coherent approach for donors and the Afghan Government.

Do No Harm (FSP 2): This principle has been violated repeatedly in terms of security, loss of life, corruption and the perception of the state. The need to “Do No Harm” has an impact on all aspects of the reconstruction process: security (reform and training of security forces, long lasting impact of foreign military intervention); governance (support – or lack of it – to national systems, parallel implementation units, and corruption); economic (market distortions on salaries and imports, misguided economic strategies); Social (discrimination/exclusion).

Statebuilding as the Central Objective (FSP 3): State-society relations are still regarded as the biggest missing link in the reconstruction process. The international intervention of the past nine years has created both weaknesses and strengths in the legitimacy of the state (e.g. shifting or un-coordinated policies; ambivalent impact of the military intervention). The unpredictability of aid and the limited discretionary funds available to government contribute to uncertainties in funding the development part of the national budget, and affect the consolidation of the government priorities and reach.

Recognise the links between political, security and development objectives (FSP 5): Many stakeholder participants of the monitoring survey felt the overarching political and development agenda is overly influenced by security and stabilisation objectives in the field, resulting in development actors having to adjust their initiatives based on evolving political agendas, rather than a need-based development agenda (as outlined in the “whole-of-government” approach of the Afghanistan National Development Strategy ANDS). In other words, there should be a greater balance of the 3Ds (Defense, Diplomacy and Development).

Align with local priorities in different ways in different contexts (FSP 7): the 2009 monitoring survey of the FSPs identified increasing awareness of the need to support and use the national frameworks – such as the ANDS – more extensively. Concern remains however as to the degree to which PRTs are aligning their civilian activities to local development plans.

From the above, it seems clear that donors will need to improve their efforts to actually implement the FSPs.

Looking forward, the proposal to promote more effective utilisation of international assistance thorough better alignment of international aid with government priorities and the channeling of increased assistance through the Afghan national budget seems particularly interesting. The challenge is to find mechanisms for channeling funding that build rather than undermine government ownership, while at the same time facilitating accountability and adhering to minimum fiduciary standards. “Joint accountability” or mutual accountability mechanisms are promising in this regard (e.g. the case of Liberia).

Secondly, the fact that the new plan highlights critical peacebuilding and statebuilding priorities is promising. Many of these priorities align with those cited in the Dili Declaration, which identifies seven peacebuilding and statebuilding goals as stepping stones to reach the MDGs in conflict-affected and fragile states.

The experiences of Afghanistan and other signatories of the Dilli Declaration will provide important evidence for the fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness to be held in Busan, Korea from November 29 to December 1st 2011. The issues being discussed at this conference on Afghanistan represent a growing and increasingly central challenge for donors and developing countries alike as they seek to make aid – and all development policies – effective.

Useful links

OECD work on conflict and fragility

Aid statistics

The other g7


Click on the image to see the Dili Declaration

This post is contributed by Rory Clarke, editor of the
OECD Observer

With the G20 ending with a whimper more than a bang last weekend, it seems a good time to turn the focus back to countries at the other end of the spectrum.

“Crisis” is a condition which many of the world’s most fragile states are permanently used to. Already, during the heady boom years, their development prospects looked dim, but now, given global budget pressures, any lingering hope of their reaching the internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for cutting poverty and improving welfare by 2015 has all but evaporated. 

Corruption, conflict and institutional under-capacity are often blamed whenever development aid fails to deliver results in these countries, but is this explanation enough?

Not according to the aptly lower-cased g7+, a grouping of fragile states that met with donors in Dili, Timor-Leste, last April 2010. To be sure, much of the blame, the g7+ acknowledges, lies with their own circumstances, but also with how donors engage in their countries.

The g7+ countries cite several problems, including a lack of trust between developing countries and donors, overlapping plans, weak leadership, approaches that favour capitals and some regions, a lack of involvement by women, and a lack of emphasis on growth and job creation, particularly for young people.

The group believes that if international aid is to be effective, g7+ countries must lead their own development agendas and define their own priorities.

A call to action, the Dili Declaration, A New Vision for Peacebuilding and Statebuilding, identifies seven peacebuilding and statebuilding goals for fragile states. And it focuses on capacity issues, aid delivery, planning and political dialogue.

Buzzwords indeed, but what’s different this time is that they come from the g7+ recipient countries, and not the donors or other agencies. Though the g7+ is by no means equipped with any of the power of the better known G7 of major industrial countries, the Dili Declaration and the ongoing Dili International Dialogue that involves the OECD  at least reflect the very same urge for cooperation as a source of strength for building a better future. As Timor-Leste’s prime minister, José Ramos-Horta, put it, “walking together, fragile states and their development partners can minimise the suffering that results from conflict and extreme poverty.”

 The g7+ was established in 2008 and includes: Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Nepal, the Solomon Islands, Sierra Leone, South Sudan and Timor-Leste.

 Useful links

Video interviews of Dili Dialogue participants

OECD work on fragile states

OECD Observer on Africa

Death and tax havens

Death and taxes are an ugly old couple with no friends. And if this man is right, soon, as John Donne predicted, death, thou shalt die.

That leaves taxes. But not only do some people not want them to die, they want them to grow vigorous and flourish. Why?

Writing in The Guardian in November 2008, OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria pointed out that developing countries lose to tax havens almost three times what they get from developed countries in aid.

Gurria was echoing the sentiment that developing countries have many of the means they need to combat poverty and promote development, but these means are being stolen by unscrupulous companies and individuals.

According to the UN, the cross-border flow of the global proceeds from tax evasion, criminal activities and corruption totals $1-1.6 trillion per year, half from developing and transitional economies.

sums being lost to tax evasion could save the lives of 350,000 children each year

Christian Aid estimates that the sums being lost to tax evasion could save the lives of 350,000 children each year if made available to programmes fighting poverty and disease.

Not just taxes are being seen in a new, more positive light. It’s now being argued that the tax collector, eternal pariah, has a noble role to play.

South Africa’s Finance Minister Trevor Manuel told the OECD Global Forum on Taxation  that “it is a contradiction to support increased development assistance, yet turn a blind eye to actions by multinationals and others that undermine the tax base of a developing country.”

As Manuel pointed out, smaller, poorer countries with less sophisticated tax administrations are often ill-equipped to dismantle the complex structures put in place to minimise tax. He urged the OECD to help identify and diffuse best practices and mechanisms to assist and build stronger tax administrations.

Will anything be done about it? On January 27th at OECD headquarters, tax experts and development experts established a joint taskforce, stating that “We have a common understanding of the central role taxation plays in development and poverty reduction: a strong tax system is the heart of a country’s financial independence, its revenues are the lifeblood of the state itself.”

Over the coming months, we’ll see what actions follow. Governments in the developed countries will be under pressure to make taxes fairer. Especially following the bailouts and other costs of the crisis, citizens of OECD countries suffer too, in terms of higher taxes to make up for the shortfall or poorer public services due to under-financing.

Useful links

OECD Centre for Tax Policy
Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes
Tax Justice Network resources page on aid, tax and development