Development in the 21st century: co-operation not donors and recipients

Click to find out more about 50 years of DAC work

Writing in The Guardian last Friday (29 April) Jonathan Glennie of the UK Overseas Development Institute argued that the OECD should give up control of the aid agenda. Brian Atwood, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee replies. Jonathan Glennie will be continuing the debate on the Insights blog next week, but you can already see other contributions on the Guardian site, which is also publishing this article.

Jonathan Glennie’s article is timely in provoking debate around one of the biggest challenges of our decade: how to ensure that we are doing our best to meet the commitments embodied in the Millennium Development Goals, and even more important, to take development beyond them in a new framework – one that is fit for the 21st century.

Jonathan is correct: the Paris Declaration – and its follow-up Accra Agenda for Action – have proven to be of seminal importance in transforming aid relationships into true vehicles for development co-operation. The principles they embody build on  50 years of field experience and research to promote what we know works: aligning development programs around each country’s own strategies, reducing  transaction costs, avoiding fragmented efforts, making all partners accountable to each other and to their constituencies and  measuring success by results.

These principles have changed the reality of development co-operation, promoting the much needed transformation of aid into development co-operation – a relationship based on trust, in which all sides accept responsibility for producing results.

But as Jonathan rightly says, this progress is not sufficient to overcome the growing global challenges. In the face of the recent financial, security, food, health, climate and energy crises, I also have to conclude that the development paradigm has not shifted enough.  

 This is not just a matter of language, although as Jonathan notes, words are important in reflecting mindsets. But the language we use to describe development co-operation reflects not only a mindset, but also long-standing and complex ways of working that often respond to many other prompts – including public opinion – than those that strictly derive from development policy.

This brings me to where I must disagree, however, with Jonathan: the OECD DAC does not control the aid agenda, no more than it controls these ways of working. If this were the case –if there were one centralized aid mechanism – then it would be easier to change. But ODA – which accounts for the vast majority of what we refer to as ‘aid’ today – is not centrally managed. It is, rather, the sum of numerous countries’ and organizations’ total – yet individual and independent – efforts to promote the development process. 

These mechanisms have not always worked to the best advantage – and this is where the OECD DAC comes in. the DAC was created to make them work better – not for the donors but for the countries trying to work their way out of poverty and all it entails. And while much has been achieved – in particular since the Paris Declaration was put in place – there is still much unfinished business.

The 91 countries Jonathan refers to are the first to testify to this and to insist – despite the fact that we are reaching the ‘due date’ for the Paris commitments – that we do not let go. Developing countries and donors alike – and yes, we still need these words – still have a job to do to reach their targets.

This is why the meeting in Busan – the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness – must be a true turning point. If Busan is successful, it will show us exactly where we need to focus to make good on those commitments. But more than that, it will signal a renewed global commitment to attack poverty as a central source of the world’s problems. More precisely, Busan can be considered successful if it achieves the following:

  1. A broad partnership among nations at all levels of income and development, as well as private and non-governmental organizations, based on a clear division of labor and transparent communication.
  2. A set of principles, founded on solid evidence, to guide the new consensus on development co-operation, together with a commitment to eliminate policies that present obstacles to achieving development results.
  3. A revitalized global effort to achieve the MDGs and focus on the need for global public goods.
  4. A recognition that the world’s poorest and most fragile states need security and capacity, and that working with them means being willing to adapt modalities and to take risks.
  5. An acceptance that people, no matter how impoverished, must be empowered to participate directly in the development process.
  6. An acceptance that all participants in development efforts must produce measurable results, and that these results must be duly reported to citizens of all nations.

Achieving these objectives will mean overcoming deep-seated prejudices and misperceptions. It will require respect for non-traditional approaches and a willingness to create a common ground among diverse partners. But it would also permit the elimination of labels such as ‘donors’ and ‘recipients’, which tend to divide the world into camps.

As my colleague Jon Lomoy, head of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate, has already noted, “The new order we foresee is not a matter of relinquishing… Why relinquish, for example, the insights that are offered by decades of experience in tracking aid, improving its quality and fostering better, more inclusive policies that Southern and Northern countries alike look to the OECD to share? Hopefully in the future, there will be no more central cogs – rather, I see the OECD as part of very efficient machinery in which each of the pieces contributes to a truly balanced, equitable and prosperous whole.”

Underdevelopment is undermining the quality of life everywhere. Busan represents an opportunity to forge the broader and deeper partnership Jonathan and many others are calling for.

Useful links

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

Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE conference) 30 May 1 June at the OECD

New Paradigms for development: OECD Forum 2011

Haiti earthquake: Independent evaluations needed


Aid arrived, but the capacity to process it was limited

Today’s post is by Hans E. Lundgren and Megan Kennedy-Chouane of the OECD Development Co-operation Directorate

It has been called one of the worst disasters in human history. The earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January 2010 saw destruction on an unprecedented scale.

Some 230,000 people lost their lives and 300,000 more were injured. Over 1 million people were left homeless.

In response, the international community mounted a massive humanitarian relief effort. The Red Cross, for instance, deployed the single largest country response in its 148 year history. People around the world gave millions in charitable donations and governments pledged $5.8 billion for relief and recovery.

At the peak of the emergency response, four million people received food aid and 1.7 million people were provided with material for basic shelter or tents.  Over time, 158,000 families have been relocated into sturdier transitional shelters. Today, 1.3 million people have access to potable water and one million are using 15,300 newly built latrines. Immunisation against major diseases has been provided to 1.9 million children and hundreds of thousands of children are back in school.

And yet, as the world marks the one year commemoration, many of us are disappointed with the overall result. Over 800,000 people are still living in camps and day-to-day conditions are extremely challenging for many Haitians. Journalists and experts in and outside of Haiti have criticised the United Nations, the donor community and NGOs for failing to improve conditions.

We support lively public debate about the effectiveness of development aid generally and the humanitarian response in Haiti specifically. However, while anecdotes and stories are useful for highlighting individual experiences, these discussions should also be informed by credible evidence – evidence that can be provided through independent evaluation. 

Here are just a few of the insights that evaluations of the earthquake have provided so far:

  • Humanitarian coordination: An independent Real Time Evaluation three months after the quake showed evidence of the recurrent problems of weak leadership and limited collaboration among international humanitarian organisations working in Haiti, despite recent progress in improving the efficacy of the humanitarian system.
  • The role of the government: Pre-existing governance weaknesses in Haiti were compounded by the earthquake.  International groups did not do enough to consult with local and national institutions and engage them in coordination mechanisms. Long-term development cannot be a donor-led process but must be effectively driven by a legitimate government. When formed, the new government will need to act decisively to approve projects, resolve issues around land ownership and set priorities for reconstruction and job creation. (IASC, 2010 and OXFAM, 2010)
  • A challenging urban setting: Reports from the Humanitarian Practice Network and OXFAM  show that delivering water, sanitation and other basic services in a major city presented very different challenges than those arising in rural environments (where humanitarians tend to have more experience). For instance, new solutions had to be found for providing toilet facilities for the hundreds of thousands of people camping amid the rubble or in dense tent cities. Organisations must have the capacity to innovate and work flexibly with local communities to find technical solutions suitable for the physical, social and cultural circumstances of the disaster-affected population.
  • Making the right kinds of donations: The Haiti response operation received tonnes of relief items, but the capacity to process these goods and get them quickly to people in need was limited. This lead to high storage costs, waste and the clogging-up of airports and roads. Some items sent were not appropriate, including expired medication that had to be destroyed. (IASC, 2010) Only goods for which there is a clearly expressed demand, and established means for distribution, should be sent.  (Read more about how best to help.)

These evaluations can be found on the ALNAP Haiti Learning and Accountability Portal. Another source for independent evaluations of development aid is the Development Evaluation Resource Centre (DEReC), hosted by the OECD DAC Evaluation Network.  This is a free online collection containing over 1700 evaluations of humanitarian and development aid programmes, including assessments of past donor efforts in Haiti and reports on other disaster responses.

In the context of broader debates about the adequacy of the Haiti earthquake response, evaluators are providing concrete lessons for the future. Sadly, some of these lessons have been highlighted before (see for example this World Bank Evaluation brief or ALNAP’s earthquake lessons note). We need to focus more on creating incentives to implement lessons, in order to ensure that mistakes are not repeated (again) in future disasters.

Useful links

Read more about Aid and the Haiti Earthquake on the Development Evaluation Resource Centre (DEReC)

Find out how the Haiti Evaluation Task Force is working to encourage credible assessments of the aid response.