Aid – Tearfund's Policy Blog

May 15, 2014 by jokhinmaung

This is a Guest Post from Stephanie Beecroft, Advocacy Officer for EU-CORD, a network of 22 Christian Organisations in Relief and Development of which Tearfund is a member. 

If you’ve kept up with any of the news coverage or the party campaigns for the May elections in recent weeks, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the future of the UK within Europe will be wrapped up that day.

Whether the UK should be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the European Union is clearly an important issue for voters, but the question won’t actually be decided at the European elections. Thursday, 22 May won’t provide the backdrop for a final showdown on membership of the EU.

What the election campaigns probably haven’t told you is the importance of the European Parliament elections for the global fight to end poverty. And yet, they will have far-reaching consequences, impacting on the EU’s ability and willingness to support communities living in poverty or victims of disasters around the world.

The European Union as a whole is the world’s biggest donor of development and humanitarian aid and the world’s largest trading bloc. Policy and funding decisions made at EU level have a significant impact around the world. The European Parliament can play a strong and decisive role for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.

It can be the difference between an EU that takes aid funding seriously and one that consistently fails to live up to its commitments. It can be the difference between an EU that cares about conflicts and crises around the world and one that turns its back and pretends not to see. It can be the difference between an EU that promotes transparency, accountability and development that works for people, and one that puts business and profits first.

Back in 2012 I supported Tearfund to lobby the European Parliament, calling on MEPs to support new laws demanding that European extractive companies publish the payments they make for oil, gas and precious minerals in countries where they operate. The EU passed this legislation last year, providing communities in natural resource-rich countries with the opportunity to see how much money their governments are receiving and hold them to account.

The European Parliament played a big role in pushing through this unprecedented legislation. If the Parliamentarians had been less favourable to the plight of those living in poverty around the world or unwilling to listen to the likes of Tearfund campaigners and partner Bishop Stephen Munga from Tanzania, that legislation might not have been passed. A European Parliament whose members are less favourable to development for the next five years might lead to the failure of policies and legislation that could be equally important for the communities that Tearfund supports.

Whatever your position on the European Union it is important to realise that decisions made by the European Parliament can have a big impact on people living in poverty and at risk of disasters around the world. Your vote and your choice of candidates in the European elections can make a difference to the direction of those decisions. Before heading to the polling station on 22 May, it’s important to know what the different candidates and parties in your constituency stand for. If you’re unsure what they think, can help you find out.

As you head to vote in the European elections, ask yourself what kind of Europe you want to see. If that Europe is a Europe that puts people first and stands against inequality and unfair policies in the world, use your vote wisely.

For more about the elections read the EU-CORD elections briefing or the BOND election manifesto.

August 7, 2013 by Rosanne White

This morning I woke up in what appeared to be the eighties. In those first blurry moments, I wondered how long I’d been asleep. Not only was the ‘racist van’ topping the headlines again, but UKIP MEP Godfrey Bloom was instructing Radio 4 listeners on why he believes it is a travesty that UK taxpayers fund aid to ‘Bongo Bongo land’. Coupled with the link sent to me by a friend to the band ‘Scott and Charlene’s Wedding’ (who married in 1987 fact fans), I honestly did feel like I’d somehow managed to sleepwalk my way into the DeLorean.

While I’m writing this, I’m clicking through as many online atlases as I can, trying to locate ‘Bongo Bongo’ land. Maybe I’ve got the spelling wrong but I’m not having much luck finding it really, maybe because I failed to secure a GCSE in geography, or (as Mr Bloom might contend), as a lady of ‘baby-making age’, I should be at home cleaning behind my fridge and not worrying about such matters.

I’m not going to launch into a detailed, worthy defence of aid here, mainly because people like Godfrey Bloom will stick like glue to their misinformed and frankly offensive opinions, regardless of how much evidence exists to the contrary. And judging by Jim Naughtie’s fairly resigned response to Mr Bloom’s tirade, coupled with the reaction on Twitter, I’m guessing most people are aware that his appraisal of international aid is up there with the Harry Potter series.

However, what I did find mildly interesting was how convicted Mr Bloom was that aid somehow goes on “ray ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and all the rest of it”.

Every time aid gets mentioned, I count under my breath until the cries of ‘corruption!’ rise up. It’s a bit like bingo really – charity begins at home (tick), all the money goes to dictators (tick), they blow it all on space programmes (tick), HOUSE! – but what people like Godfrey Bloom have failed to notice is how much work has been done and is still being undertaken, to ensure that aid goes where it’s most needed and to support citizens in developing countries in building their capacity to hold their own governments to account for its expenditure.

Back in June, the EU passed unprecedented legislation to ensure that multinationals publish what they pay for developing countries’ natural resources, which for some, amounts to seven times what they receive in aid. A significant breakthrough, which will have a serious impact for people living in some of the world’s poorest countries. The next step will be to ensure greater budget transparency, so that citizens all over the world can access information about how their governments are spending their taxes and investments. We hope that this will be considered by countries attending the Open Government Partnership annual meeting in the Autumn, currently chaired by the UK.

But going back to the EU Accounting and Transparency Directives. Eighteen MEPs voted against the groundbreaking transparency legislation in June and Godfrey Bloom was one of them. I’m honestly baffled that someone who opposes UK overseas development assistance on the grounds of corruption, would also openly counter legislation which not only paves the way for far greater transparency in our international and business relations, but might also one day end the need for aid entirely.

Aid works. It really does. In the last ten years, more than 50 million children have started going to school in sub-Saharan Africa, while deaths from measles have fallen by nearly 75%. I could quote and quote and quote statistics. And yet 2.3 million children still die every year from malnutrition. I’m not sure I want to know what Mr Bloom thinks about that, or what he’d say to the 2.3 million mothers who will mourn the desperate loss of their children this year, all because they didn’t have enough food to eat. But I hope that the Great British public drowns out his racist ramblings with furious compassion for those who are worse off than us, because it’s what we do best.

April 16, 2013 by laurataylor

Hunger is one of the most visible signs of poverty.  A child’s bloated belly or a grandfather’s withered arm are images which we too often see on the TV in a time of crisis and which stay with us for years to come.  Tackling hunger is very much part of Tearfund’s business. We were set up in 1968 by UK churches who wanted to respond to the severe famine  West Africa, and have provided emergency food supplies in countless crises since then.  We also work alongside many churches around the world as they mobilise communities to find their own, more long term solutions to improve their food security and health, from sustainable farming to hygiene promotion, to speaking out against land grabs.

But, in a world where there is enough food for everyone, it is outrageous that one in eight people go to bed hungry every night. It is vital that the root causes of hunger are tackled which is why the IF campaign, which Tearfund is part of, is so important. Ahead of the G8 we are calling on leaders to fight land grabs, tax dodging and corruption and to ensure that promises of aid and climate finance are delivered and spent well. Thousands of our supporters have been joining this call for real change.

But it hasn’t escaped my notice that, as well as being the year where leaders can make decisions which will help to end extreme hunger around the world, 2013 may also be a year remembered for alarming increases in hunger in the UK.  Reports of children returning to school malnourished due to the lack of free lunches over the holidays have really shocked us. As steady work becomes more difficult to find and delays and cuts in the provision of emergency assistance in our own country increase, the press have noticed that many churches have been stepping into the breach here as well as overseas.

Tearfund hosted a meeting in Parliament today and were joined by the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity who are behind many of the food banks which have been springing up across the country. Their aim is to step into the breach if  a family hits a crisis and to provide a limited supply of food, provided by local people and businesses free of charge, until appropriate state or alternative provision can be arranged. As times get tougher, the numbers needing this kind of help are steadily increasing and their volunteers are doing amazing work.

Of course, as we know from our experience overseas, emergency aid like this is a vital sticking plaster, but inadequate on its own. Foodbanks are a crucial last port of call but can’t provide a sustainable solution for families or act as a replacement for the state. What is clear is that, in the UK as well as overseas, the church needs to go beyond emergency relief to build longer term resilience and to tackle the root causes of hunger – and in many cases it is.

Other organisations, like Christians Against Poverty (who I’m proud to say Tearfund helped to birth), provide debt counselling, and the Lighthouse Group, who Tearfund also partners with, are mentoring and counselling kids at risk of being excluded from school.  These kind of initiatives help to people to take control of their own situation before crisis point is reached, to manage their resources and to develop skills which should equip them well for the long term and ensure that meals are not missed.

And churches and NGOs in the UK are also engaging with policy makers – from local authorities to the Prime Minister – to hold leaders to account for the way that they deal with those in most need. In Parliament today, Chris Mould, the Executive Chairman of Trussell Trust, quoted the prophet Jeremiah to remind the MPs and Lords there that their responsibility should be to defend the cause of the poor and the needy. He explained that many of the people who arrive in food banks are there because the wages they are earning are too low to support the whole family, or because they have fallen through a bureaucratic gap.  There are policy changes that they could work for which could improve this situation.

The church and many others in society are doing great work, but let’s not rest on our laurels. While people are hungry we need to continue to meet their immediate needs, empower them to feed themselves and to work with them to tackle the injustices which keep them hungry. Let’s make 2013 a year to remember for the right reasons.

April 5, 2013 by Caroline Maxwell

So it has been less than a month since the UK announced that it would meet its historic promise of 0.7 per cent of national income on overseas aid. Cause for celebration? Yes. However we know that aid alone is not going to end world poverty and neither must we dismiss the fact that sometimes it can be abused.

The UK’s International Development Committee Report on aid in Pakistan was headline news this week.

This week the headlines regarding foreign aid have targeted the latest International Development Committee’s report on Pakistan. One of the Committee’s concerns is that not enough tax is raised in Pakistan to fully finance improvements in the quality of life for poor people.

Of course the anti-aid brigade will use this as an example of why aid doesn’t work, arguing that it is just a hand-out exploited by the wealthy in poorer nations, and then that c-word always emerges – ‘corruption’!

Contrary to popular belief, aid campaigners are aware and just as angry about corruption and tax avoidance as the rest of society. We’ve been advocating that  transparency and accountability are essential if tax revenues are to be used to fund health and education programmes.

The OECD estimates that developing countries lose three times more to tax havens than they receive in aid each year. Obviously this undermines the ability of these governments to lead their own fights against poverty, and reduces citizens’ confidence in their governments’ ability to provide for them.

Everyone has a role to play in fighting tax evasion but the responsibility must fall on leaders and governments to make it a priority in addition to donors meeting their aid commitments. The two are not mutually exclusive. While aid is a small (less than 10 per cent of national income) and significant part of the story, taxation is an important, sustainable and predictable source of finance for all governments including in developing countries.

We know that if developing country governments do not publish their budgets and details of how they spend the taxes collected, then poor communities cannot make sure that promises are being kept, check how money is spent to ensure their children get the services they need, or point to where the money has gone astray.

It is essential that civil society groups are given the tools to equip them to hold their governments to account.  Tearfund has seen numerous examples of the power that churches and their congregations wield in urging their governments to allocate spend on a pro-poor basis and in holding them to account for doing so.

That’s why our campaign Unearth the Truth focuses on transparency in the extractives sector and we have been calling for mandatory disclosure of payments (including tax payments) that oil, gas and mining companies make to governments.

Tearfund campaigners putting a spotlight on corruption

There are various ways in which donors like the UK can, and do, support initiatives which combat corruption.  These include promoting good governance, as well as specific anti–corruption measures, through helping to build strong and accountable public sectors and domestic institutions and by supporting systems which help parliaments, civil society and the media to act as ‘watchdogs’ against corruption and scrutinise how aid money is spent.

This year the UK is chair of the G8 and of the Open Government Partnership and is in a strong position to drive forward initiatives that can increase transparency, both in how governments raise money (particularly tax payments and money for natural resources) and how they spend it.

In a world where there are not endless pots of money available, we need to ensure that resources – whether from tax, investment or aid – are used to tackle poverty in the most efficient and transparent way. That means promoting greater transparency across the board – in tax revenues, in land deals and in budgets to ensure that that schools and clinics get the funding they need.

Let us not fall into the trap of thinking that corruption and tax evasion only exists in non Western nations as some sensationalist news stories on foreign aid allude to. As David Cameron himself has said we need to get our own house in order when it comes to these issues too.

The UK has further to go to be in a leadership position on this agenda than it has on aid. Our recent Bribery Act – making it illegal for UK companies to bribe foreign officials – was a good start, but the government needs a comprehensive anti-corruption strategy and must do much more to tackle systematic tax evasion if Cameron really does want the UK to play a leadership role.

March 20, 2013 by Caroline Maxwell

500 IF Campaigners #SpottheGeorge in Westminster on Tuesday 19 March.
Source: Craig Philbrick, Tearfund.

After the buzz of 500 campaigners in Westminster donning George Osborne masks yesterday (scary but true), and not to mention years of calling for the UK to meet its promises on aid, Budget Day has finally arrived.

As MPs gathered in the Commons to hear the Chancellor’s announcement, aside from the usual political posturing and jeering, there was an air of expectation unlike any other Budget. The atmosphere could even be felt outside the ‘corridors of power’ as campaigners waited with bated breath. For Tearfund it meant huddling around the nearest TV and we were not disappointed on news about international aid.

Today proved to be a momentous occasion to go down in history books as the day when the UK Government finally met its international aid commitment. A day of which the great British public should be proud. Ok, so we won’t get the bunting and flags out as we did for the Olympics or Royal Wedding – nonetheless today is a cause for celebration – we’re the first G8 country to achieve the target.

It was the World Council of Churches who first recommended a target figure for aid, in 1958, a recommendation taken on by the UK in 1970. Since then, Christians across the world and in the UK have been in the vanguard of campaigning for it. After 40 years, we have now reached our pledge of giving 0.7 per cent of our national income to the world’s poorest.

It is not very British to praise the Government, but it should be commended for sticking to its foreign aid manifesto pledge. Whilst aid is a small slice of government spending, any commitment is not to be sniffed at in tough economic times. As the Archbishop of York said today ‘We shouldn’t have to choose between international aid and tackling poverty in the UK. It’s a false choice. Loving our neighbour means showing love and generosity not only to the people down the road, but also to our neighbours wherever they live in the global village. When the poor and vulnerable are left behind then we are all worse off as a society, as a nation and as an international community.’

Our aid commitment will boost investment in agriculture and nutrition to tackle the scandal, which sees nearly 900 million people – one in eight of the world’s population go hungry. It means people like Farasi, a 70-year old woman living in a rural village in Zimbabwe, can now not only feed herself and her grandson, she can also send him to school by selling the extra  crops she has been able to grow through sustainable farming methods. ‘There is no more hunger because of this way of farming,’ she says. ‘As we get surplus we give to others who are poor and do not have enough food’.

Farasi a grandmother and farmer in Zimbabwe. Source: Clive Mear, Tearfund

While we can celebrate this achievement we know that aid alone cannot end poverty and hunger. Existing revenues from tax and investment also needs to be harnessed. That’s why the ‘Enough Food for Everyone IF‘ campaign will continue to call for issues such as greater transparency in tax revenues, in land deals and in government budgets so that ordinary people can hold their governments to account in how money is spent. It is why Tearfund is also calling for greater transparency in extractive industry revenues so that spending can be targeted where they are most needed.

Tamsin Greig, Tearfund supporter and fan of the IF Campaign.
Source: Clive Mear

As well as ensuring that the poorest people in the world can share in the proceeds of growth, through eradicating corruption, communities also need to be resilient to the risks of climate change.  Tearfund is calling on governments to identify new money, outside of aid budgets, to help vulnerable communities adapt to the impacts of climate change, for example through a shipping emissions levy, so that poor families like Farasi can still feed themselves in a changing climate.

So as the frenzy of the Budget dies down and the news agenda moves on the real job continues to ensure that aid is used effectively. Tearfund is actively speaking out on this issue so that every penny spent reaches those who need it. The UK is leading other donor countries, not only in its commitment but also the fact that DFID is one of the most scrutinised government departments. We owe it to the widow who lost her spouse in conflict, the unemployed farmer who lost his livelihood due to climate change, the child suffering from diarrhoea who cannot access safe drinking water – and the millions of others like them so that their stories can be transformed for the better.

March 18, 2013 by Caroline Maxwell

This is a joint blog post by Sarah Pickwick, Tearfund’s Sudan and South Sudan Policy Officer and Caroline Maxwell.

We know that disasters and crises are becoming more frequent and prolonged. From the deep rooted conflicts in the DRC to crises currently in the news like Syria – many communities struggle to cope. The challenge is to meet both the immediate emergency needs but also develop longer term strategies so that those affected by the crisis can rebuild their lives.

When an agency like Tearfund responds to a disaster situation and then remains there for a long period, say over 10 years, the question inevitably gets asked; ‘how are you transitioning, from a relief context to recovery?’.  Surely just providing basic items such as food and shelter over a long period creates a culture of dependency. So how then do we resolve this challenge when we respond in a protracted and complex humanitarian situation, such as Darfur in Sudan?  These are key questions for NGOs like Tearfund as well as governments and donors that support agencies delivering aid.

A recent Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) report commended Tearfund’s DFID funded water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work in Darfur, for a number of the aspects and in particular how Tearfund’s approach is community-led and focussing on addressing longer term needs.

Our WASH projects both in Darfur, and in many other  prolonged crises where we are responding, can range from installing hand-dug wells, pumped water systems, constructing latrines and doing solid waste management to hygiene promotion activities through women and children’s groups and household visits. Not only do these projects play a part in meeting people’s immediate needs they also lead to more sustained ways of providing WASH services.

Source: Paul Brigham, Tearfund

One way we’ve been adopting a sustainable community-led approach is by working with locals such as Ahmed Hashim Mustafa, a resident of Al Khanama village, who received awareness training about the importance of hygiene. Before the training Ahmed recalls that previously he did not know the importance of having a latrine and that every day he used to use the valley near his home as an open toilet. But after his village participated in a community-led sanitation campaign, he understood how dangerous this was, potentially causing several life-threatening diseases. As a result he dug his own latrine, and now says he will never go to the toilet in the open again. ‘I will also encourage others to dig their latrines to make their village an open defecation free zone’ he said.

Whilst we seek to respond with the most appropriate support according to the situations we are faced with, the key thread that runs through all our work is an emphasis on sustainability and engaging with the communities that we work in, so that they are empowered to analyse and respond to their WASH needs. It’s why years ago we started to move away from relief approaches to focus on early recovery for affected communities. We place a lot of emphasis on including the communities in our work, putting them in the driving seat and building on what they can do themselves by strengthening their knowledge. We strongly believe that this is what donors need to focus on supporting.

Ahmed’s story is just one example of  the approach we take – and we will continue to review and learn how we operate. The ICAI report had useful recommendations for donors as they consider delivery of water and sanitation in protracted crisis, including:

  • Flexibility in delivery: Donor’s initial response should be on emergency WASH service provision, but as the crisis develops and the needs and perceptions of the affected community changes, donors must adapt by changing how they work with partners and deliver aid that promotes longer term solutions.
  • Funding: Donors should have a balanced mix of funding mechanisms in order to spread the risk of working in crisis and for keeping track of how money is used at all stages of a response from strategic planning, allocating resources and monitoring impact. Multi-annual grants should be favoured to ensure a long lasting response.
  • Maximising impact and ensuring effectiveness: Donors should seek to support projects that are sustainable, directly engage communities throughout to ensure ownership (ultimately building their own capacity to deliver), promote learning and also take into account good environmental practices (such as solar powered water pumps etc). Only when these things are taken on board will people in these situations experience real change.

To contribute further to this debate Tearfund will shortly publish two pieces of broader research, one funded by the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), looking at the best approaches to deliver WASH within complex emergencies, and the other funded by DFID, exploring whether delivery of WASH can contribute towards peace- and state-building.

We’ll be blogging more about this soon, with links to our reports so watch this space!

February 21, 2013 by laurataylor

PM official picture from Number 10 website

I may regret saying this. As the saying goes, the devil is always in the detail. However, I can’t help wondering if today’s “announcement” by Cameron that some more of the aid budget should be spent by the Ministry of Defence might not be such a bad thing.

– Firstly, some aid spend already goes through the MoD and the Independent reports that only around £100m additional money year is being considered.  An amount that can obviously make a big impact providing health, education or water projects. But, actually, not a big percentage of the overall £11 billion aid budget.

-Secondly, he said that spend would be in line with international OECD guidelines, which are reasonably strict on what does and doesn’t count as aid. So while spend on new weapons would be wrong, my understanding is that wouldn’t count. While, say, more support for peacekeeping in DRC, for example, could be a good thing.

– And thirdly, lets face it, Cameron has an uphill struggle to get his own party behind 0.7% commitment. If announcements like this – which perhaps initially sound worse than they really are – help, then maybe it’s a good political call, and the criticism which follows could be part of his political calculation.

That’s not to say I don’t have any concerns. It is going to be hugely important for all of us with an interest – media, charities, the International Development Select Committee and the Independent Commission on Aid Impact –  to keep an eye on what the Government (not just DFID, but MOD, Department for Energy and Climate Change, Foreign Office etc) are spending aid on to make sure it really is in line with the law and is actually reducing poverty.  To give another example, we’ve also recently been worried by £110m of aid classified as climate finance going to a private equity firms for investments which we aren’t sure will go to the countries that need them most.

But, I’m reasonably hopeful we have the mechanisms we need to raise the alarm when concerns are raised and we just need to make sure that we use them. Whilst it’s vital that the #IF campaign keeps up the pressure to make sure that the Chancellor meets the 0.7% commitment, it will also be extremely important that pressure continues after the announcement is made, to ensure that the money is being spent legitimately and is really transforming poor communities.

It would also be wrong to imply that only aid spent by MOD can help promote stability. We know that investment in education, agriculture and in tackling corruption can help build stable societies and promote peace.  But my biggest concern about the announcement is that the MOD may be asked to deliver aid projects rather than just peace keeping. Attempts by military in Afghanistan to “win hearts and minds” by building schools and delivery other community projects were widely criticised for being bad development (no community ownership, badly designed etc) and for putting lives of aid workers at risk by blurring distinctions between humanitarian and military assistance.

A political announcement to gain short term support is one thing, but using aid in a way which is dangerous, doesn’t help the people who need it most or which is against international laws, will just undermine the case for aid. We know that aid can work, does save lives and that the UK Government can have a massive impact by reaching 0.7%. But this is a reminder that campaigning on aid can’t stop when we meet that target, but should be an ongoing – and constructive – dialogue with government.

February 7, 2013 by Craig Philbrick

I’m standing in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia, and I’m crying. We’ve been travelling now for about five and a half weeks, through 26 countries and it’s over. We’ve dodged corrupt police in Bulgaria, heard Turkmenistan state officials tapping into our calls home; and survived drunk, angry policemen demanding a bribe (it’s a common occurrence in Uzbekistan). But now it’s over and our 1.0 litre Corsa has finally given up the ghost.

As our dreams of winning the rally crumble like the sand beneath our feet, a group of locals drive past and offer us a tow back to their community, where Matt (my co-conspirator) and I can call for a mechanic. We say goodbye to our other teammates and head back through the mountains. An hour or so later we arrive at a collection of yurts and are welcomed into the house of our rescuers. They feed us “buuz”, a traditional meal of dumplings filled with meat which are cooked in steam, give us a space to rest, and once their mechanic has come to confirm our worst fears, they arrange onward travel.

Mongolia is a beautiful empty place – that’s why it’s called The Land of Blue Sky. Yet most of its people face a hard daily struggle to survive with enough food. Our hosts didn’t have much, but the little food and warmth they did, they were more than happy to share with us as their guests. By sharing a meal together, we shared friendships, joy and peace.

Photo with our host’s children.

Since coming to work at Tearfund, I’ve realised that this problem is sadly not exclusive to Mongolia, it is a global problem. In fact, everyday 1 in 8 people go hungry worldwide. But it shouldn’t have to be this way. Did you know that there is enough food in the world for everyone? Hunger is not an inevitability, it is an injustice that we can fight. We can do something.

We are called to love God with all our hearts, all our souls, all our strength and all our mind – and to love our neighbours as ourselves (Luke 10:27).  Love is a verb, a doing word, therefore we must act as we honour God by loving the hungry. I want to do for other people what a family in Mongolia did for me.

And that’s why Tearfund are joining the ENOUGH FOOD FOR EVERYONE IF campaign. Together we will focus on some of the root causes of hunger, recognising that aid is only one vital first step in tackling global poverty, and that we must go beyond this to address the deeper causes of poverty and hunger, like climate change and tax dodging in developing countries. Together, we can end the daily reality of hunger for countless people and make the world a fairer, better place that we share together.

The time to act is now. If you want to be part of the campaign, sign up using the link below. Thank you.

January 31, 2013 by laurataylor

UK Parliament – home of the International Development Select Committee

Contrary to today’s Daily Mail headline, the International Development Select Committee did not actually call for the target of spending 0.7% of aid to be scrapped.  In their response to DFID’s annual report, the Select Committee did argue that the quality of aid spending is more important than the overall quantity. And of course this is true. The last thing that anyone in the development community wants is for a spending target to result in aid being wasted.

But we also know that the 0.7% commitment isn’t just an arbitrary target, but is a promise that has been made to poor communities around the world for many years and which cannot be dismissed lightly. We have a moral responsibility to act which should not be lost in technocratic arguments.

As Tearfund’s CEO wrote in the Huffington Post, we shouldn’t allow the Daily Mail and others to force us into a debate around whether or not to cut the aid target.  We have the privilege of seeing everyday the huge and transformational impact that aid – from both governments and NGOs – has all around the world.  DFID’s own report says that in the last 2 years they have paid for 12 million children to be vaccinated and provided 6 million people with emergency food aid. The International Development Committee don’t question these facts and personally, I can’t think of many better things to spend less than 0.7% of our country’s income on.

But we also can’t just be aid apologists. We know that aid – like all areas of public spending – isn’t always used as effectively as it could be. It is right that we have grown up conversations how best to spend the money, what we’re learning and how to have the biggest impact possible. But to always tie these conversations to the issue of whether to spend the money traps us in a “groundhog day” style debate.

The report criticises the significant increase in DFID money going through multilaterals as they “have high cost and sometimes limited effectiveness” and stresses that DFID bureaucracy shouldn’t prevent them from working with effective local NGOs. At Tearfund, we’re passionate about the brilliant projects that our local partners are doing – from supporting sustainable farming in Malawi and Zimbabwe to holding local government officials to account in India and, it’s great when additional resources from DFID increase their impact.

But we shouldn’t just write off multilateral aid as a legitimate way of spending money as it’s often easier for a developing country government to deal with one multilateral donor than several uncoordinated national donors, and costs accrued there may actually save costs (DFID head count, government staff time in developing countries etc). This kind of debate about the right balance of organisations that aid goes to is the kind I’d describe as helpful.

The report also raises good points about the clarity DFID needs to provide as to which countries it is and isn’t working on, and the need for enough DFID staff to manage the money well. Again, good points. But these points cannot be excuses for not meeting the 0.7% target.  The promise was initially made 40 years ago and was recommitted to by the UK Government in 2005 and 2010 so there is absolutely no excuse for not having planned for it properly.  As part of the IF campaign we will be doing all that we can to make sure that the Chancellor sticks to the 0.7% target when he makes his budget statement in March because this is the least we owe to the 1 in 8 people around the world who go to bed hungry every night.  While legitimate debates about how we use this money will and should continue, this promise is just too important to delay any longer.

January 30, 2013 by Caroline Maxwell

Another report on aid, wait a minute one that is actually based on the opinions and experiences of those who receive aid?! Yes I’m talking about the latest publication Time to Listen, which is a refreshing and welcome contribution to the debate about how effective aid really is.

This may not be the first time a report has focused on recipients – the very people it is trying to lift out of poverty  – but I do feel that its release is timely given the recent anti-aid  rhetoric, which  fuel unhelpful media headlines.

Don’t get me wrong it’s important not to look at the role of aid through rose-tinted glasses. Neither is it useful to totally dismiss some of the real and tangible benefits that it can bring just because donor budgets are being stretched due to tough economic times.

We need a more sophisticated and balanced critique of the whole aid system. Scrutiny, when done well, puts the focus on experimentation, feedback and real-time learning. We learn to adapt by making small changes, observing the results, and then adjusting. This open kind of scrutiny both with donor and recipient on how we can make aid work better should become the norm.

That’s why I like this report. It does not shy away from exposing the problems faced on the ground.

Interestingly as I read it, it gets me thinking that the church often does what this book’s calling the aid industry to do such as aid workers to become more rooted in communities, local people to be seen as colleagues and drivers of their own development and collaborative decision making.

Local church meeting. Source Tearfund

In the Western world we can forget that community groups like churches  are among the world’s most powerful grassroots networks, particularly in the global South. They have the ability of bringing people together to agree and work together to achieve a safe, healthy, productive and sustainable future for their village, town or city.

Once the local church is mobilised, it becomes a facilitator rather than the provider. It seeks to envision and empower community members to identify and respond to their own needs, rather than meeting those needs for them. The local church works with rather than for the community.

Sometimes that means digging wells or pit latrines to improve sanitation, sometimes it means providing emotional support to the bereaved. Fundamental to the church community mobilisation process is challenging the injustices of our day as well as supporting the most vulnerable people in the neighbourhood, whoever they may be.

One of Tearfund’s partners Eficor (the Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief) in India, run the Poor Area Civil Society programme funded by DFID which monitors the national rural employment guarantee scheme to fund 100 days of work for each person currently living in poverty. That’s a great way to spend aid money; empowering local communities to make sure their government deliver on the work they’ve committed to do.

Self help group in India. Source Tearfund

And the church should not be immune to scrutiny either, we know that it isn’t perfect and that it doesn’t always gets it right. That’s why Tearfund’s church community mobilisation process has a rigorous monitoring and evaluation component – to identify when problems arise and how we can learn from them so that communities are better equipped. We believe that scrutiny is good and it must be done all the time, so we can be very clear about how our money is being spent.

It is clear that aid is not the magic silver bullet to solve poverty. Nonetheless countries like the UK should still stick to their aid commitment to give less than one per cent of our national income to the world’s poorest. Our aid programmes should continue to be reviewed by regulatory bodies such as the National Audit Office and the Independent Commission for Aid Impact.

The debate must move towards a more intelligent approach of how we can make aid smarter, looking at additional ways to finance development to avoid dependency and, a bit like the local church, how we can work with poor communities to give them the tools and opportunities to hold their own governments to account in the decisions made that affect their livelihoods for the better.