A friend and colleague has challenged me to respond to this post on IIED’s blog that reported on a debate asking whether “development aid has a future”?
Much as I might be up for a bit of blogosphere wonk-warring, I find it hard to disagree with the main points made in the post. In fact, if I wanted to be facetious for a moment, I might suggest that maybe the panellists had been reading this blog:
- Alex Scrivener is dead right when decrying the pointlessness of the focus on countries giving 0.7% of GDP … which is not so very far away from my views on whether we need more aid.
- David Satterthwaite’s point on Aid’s lack of accountability to beneficiaries is a familiar refrain, e.g. see here.
- Thirdly, Andrew Simm’s query as to how Aid can help in climate-constrained world has echoes of my recent musings that in future Aid may turn into guilt-inspired climate reparations.
Of course that would be facetious since none of those posts of mine were particularly original thinking, and you will find many similar thoughts expressed by others both in and outside the blogosphere. And, yes, many of us find it hard to contemplate throwing the (development) baby out with the (aid) bathwater, because most of us are swimming in that same bath water!
But I do find it ironic that just when big Aid is enjoying some of the highest levels of political support it has ever received, the entire model is under question perhaps as never before. Many countries classified by the World Bank as low income are expected to follow Ghana and graduate to middle income status in the next decade. Aid is believed to have played only a very small part, if any, in this success, but may well have made many millions of lives better in the mean time.
“What is aid for?” asked Scrivener. Apparently it’s not to help the giver win big commercial contracts. My guess is that most private donations for development are motivated out of compassion and simple altruism, and yet when our governments give money often politicians seek to justify it in terms of self-interest. Are they just responding to a right-wing vocal minority or is this what we expect of our leaders?
In light of the above points I would recast Scrivener’s question into three parts:
- Why do people/institutions/governments give money?
- What can we reasonably expect to achieve with that?
- How will these motivations and ambitions change in a rapidly changing world?
Big, awkward questions all, tailor-made for ducking by politicians. Like all such challenges, I suspect we won’t really get a chance to find out the answers till a big (climate-driven?) crisis comes along and yanks us out of the status quo. So actually it may well be the third question which ends up driving answers to the first two.