Comparative advantages of local, national and international actors in emergencies

When you’re facing a crisis who do you turn to? Or what happens when your usual support networks like family, friends and neighbours are not around? Most of us can only imagine what we would do if our crisis became a war in the country we live in.

But that’s the reality for people who have been affected by the conflict in South Sudan, which erupted in December 2013. It began in the capital, Juba and then spread rapidly across the country’s different states. Local survival mechanisms have been depleted since then and populations have few remaining resources. [Read more…]

Let’s remember Central African Republic this Christmas and beyond

Fighting, pain and bloodshed. These are definitely not gifts that anyone would want to receive. Sadly this is exactly what happened to 2.5 million people in the Central African Republic (CAR) last year in December. Far from a month of peace and goodwill, instead fighting broke out and the country descended into chaos.

Violence between Seleka and anti-Balaka groups  forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee their homes, while thousands were either killed, abused or trapped in enclaves for their own safety. The crisis overwhelmed the capacity of CAR, a country that has been largely devoid of any state functions and neglected by the international community for decades.

Empty streets – Fear of attacks has driven many people from their homes in Bangui. Photo: Hannah Maule-ffinch

Twelve months on the conflict is ongoing and half the population needs emergency assistance. One in ten of CAR’s ‘pre-crisis’ population are now refugees in neighbouring countries. The situation remains precarious and deadly despite an international intervention to respond to humanitarian needs and protect civilians.

Without a serious commitment from the international community to provide the necessary human, financial and political resources to stabilise the country and prevent the continued suffering of civilians – CAR will remain exactly where it has been since independence – lost, in the heart of Africa.

The landlocked country in the heart of Africa is considered one of the poorest and least developed in the world, with the UNDP Human Development Index 2014 positioning it 185th out of 187 countries. Despite being resource rich, with vast amount of diamonds, CAR has struggled to break out of poverty due to conflict and the mismanagement of its resources by numerous leaders.

With such a bleak environment it is hard to see a way out. However even within such desperation and darkness there is hope and there are opportunities for breakthrough in the country.

Tearfund has been responding to the humanitarian crisis since the start of the year. To date we have been part of the humanitarian community’s efforts to transform lives as we have:

  • Provided food distributions to 3400 internally displaced people.
  • Distributed seeds and tools and provided agricultural training to 1000 households.
  • Trained 31 000 people on hygiene promotion to prevent the spread of water-borne diseases like diarrhoea.
  • Distributed 7 565 000 litres of potable water.
  • Built or rehabilitated 370 latrines and 168 showers and 162 hand washing facilities.
Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp

Delivery of jerry can full of clean water at an IDP camp.  

However we know that humanitarian response alone is not enough. What is required in the CAR is long term political stability, good governance, and peaceful cohesive communities of all faiths and none. This is where advocacy can play such a crucial role.

In October 2014 Tearfund hosted the parliamentary visit of Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell to the CAR. It was a short but productive trip with a schedule that included visits to IDP camps and meetings with high political officials such as the interim President Catherine Samba Panza, Diane Corner deputy head of the UN peacekeeping force, and the interfaith delegation comprising of the Archbishop of Bangui, Chief Imam and the Head of the Evangelical Church. Lord McConnell’s blog was particularly popular in the Parliament blog-sphere and challenged the negative label that CAR has been given as a ‘pointless country’.

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

Baroness Berridge and Lord McConnell meeting with interim President of CAR, Catherine Samba-Panza

This visit was much more than just seeing people in poverty and meeting officials. Both Members of the House Lords, along with MPs in the House of Commons, have remained committed to the cause. Through their support and those of their colleagues in both the Houses, parliamentary scrutiny approved the extension of EUFOR – the EU peacekeeping force to support the UN as it was facing a shortfall in civilian protection troops.

There is still a long way to go. Advocacy is about the long game – building the steps for a better future. Within a complex political emergency like the CAR this is even more complicated. However Tearfund, like many other humanitarian organisations, is committed to seeing this nation reach its potential. In particular we are calling on the international community to;

  • Increase political engagement and support: Ensure the crisis remains on the regional and international political agenda by providing sustained support to an inclusive, comprehensive, and accountable peace process that links local-level with national-level dialogue and reconciliation and takes into account CAR’s refugees in neighbouring countries.
  • Increase funding: Announce new commitments to the humanitarian response, channelling resources to underfunded sectors including early recovery, protection, nutrition, education, and shelter/non-food items.
  • Invest in basic state services and development: Commit resources to reinforce and expand state services, and encourage and support the expansion of development activities.
  • Support the UN peacekeeping troops – MINUSCA: Identify troops and police contingents and mobilise necessary material resources, to ensure that MINUSCA reaches – and maintains – a fully operational capacity.

As we come up to one year on since the upsurge of violence many of the displaced people still live in constant  fear of reprisals. Security remains unpredictable as armed robberies continue on a daily basis in and around Bangui. Overall the nation is sitting on a time bomb and the constant threat of a further decline into violence and conflict lingers. Let us ensure that CAR does not slip into the neglected crises list.

 

Life for Syrian refugees outside of official camps – how local churches are making a difference

For the launch of Tearfund’s media report ‘Overcrowded and overlooked’ this is a guest blog post by Rupen Das. Rupen is the Director of one of Tearfund’s partnering organisations helping Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

Rupen Das profile

As the crisis in Syria and its neighbouring countries enters its third year, it is heart breaking that the humanitarian situation is getting worse, and a peace deal through the diplomatic talks seems unreachable.

The conflict has been described as the worst humanitarian disaster since the end of the cold war. The scale of the response is hugely challenging as more than 2.2 million Syrians are hosted in the region placing unprecedented strain on communities, infrastructure and services in host countries of Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt.

In Lebanon, where displaced Syrians now equal one-third of the population, there is huge strain on communities, infrastructure and services. Unlike Syria’s other neighbours there are currently no official camps in Lebanon for Syrians. While the UN has made great efforts to improve refugee registration, given the continued unprecedented increase of refugees, Lebanon and the other hosting countries still need practical and financial support. The burden on them is immense and unsustainable.

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Bekaa Valley, Lebanon. Photo: Tearfund

Some Syrians who have fled are living with host communities such as friends and relatives. However, as space is finite within homes this can mean up to 30 people living in one bedroom apartments. Many others are renting accommodation in the highly inflationary private housing market, or being forced to find whatever shelter they can in empty and derelict buildings, or in informal tent  settlements. Some of the least fortunate can be seen sleeping rough under bridges, in parks and on the streets.

With an estimated 84 percent of refugees living outside camps, increased outreach capacity is needed to ensure all persons of concern have access to information and counselling regarding their status and available services. That’s why aid agencies like Tearfund are using local-based partner organisations and churches to support hundreds of vulnerable Syrians who are now living outside of formal camp settlements.

Caring for those who are not part of the mainstreams of society like refugees because of their brokenness and rejection is, amongst other things, a core part of how the church responds to those in need.

During challenging times churches can become places of compassion for anyone regardless of their faith or ethnic background. They are stepping out of their comfort zones and reaching out to those who do not belong to their group or community.  In Lebanon, many of the churches are demonstrating what forgiveness and reconciliation looks like through their acts of compassion as they forgive Syrians for their twenty year occupation of the country.

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Three Syrian boys living in a make-shift informal camp in Lebanon. Photo: Eleanor Bentall/Tearfund

Local faith communities are often crucial operational partners assisting larger agencies. Practical examples of this include registering asylum seekers, community peace building, conflict mitigation, promoting sustainable livelihoods, and gender and child protection[1].  Partnerships formed by the faith-based agencies can have a significant advantage in this respect, being able to tap into pre-existing local networks to identify and respond to needs as they arise.

However we cannot do it alone, and we all need to work together – the UN, donors, large development agencies, different faith based organisations and local civil society. As the crisis continues, it is clear that while humanitarian assistance is vital, particularly for the refugees and host communities, a great hope of those who fled is to return to Syria.

Above all, they want the international community to invest in a peace plan for Syria to end the bloodshed and suffering.

Coverage of Tearfund’s partner work in Lebanon was broadcast on Channel 5 News which you can watch below

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2BoszCfMeEQ


[1] Joint Learning Initiative (JLI) Local faith communities and resilience in humanitarian situations policy note http://www.jliflc.com/~/media/Files/Joint%20Learning/LHAG%20Resilience/JLIFLC%20Faith%20%20Resilience%20Hub%20Policy%20Note.pdf

From vision to action: how do we break the political deadlock?

Having scrutinised all 60 plus pages of the UN High Level Panel (HLP) report on what should come after the Millennium Development Goals (MDG),  and the various commentaries in response, am I the only one who still feels overwhelmed? Don’t get me wrong it is great to finally have some illustrative goals and targets to spark debate as well as a clear narrative to help guide thinking on development after the MDGs expire.

Lets face it, pulling together a report within 10 months after lengthy discussions, receiving over 800 responses to consultations and no doubt endless hours editing the final paper is not  the most enviable job. For us at Tearfund, and I’m sure for many others, we want to see the rhetoric and good intentions of the panel’s vision turned into meaningful political commitments. Now is the time for all leaders to  adopt a zero tolerance to  low-level ambitions. And with that comes the opportunity for civil society, of which faith groups such as local churches are an integral part, to use expertise and evidence to advocate for realistic and significant change.

So for what it’s worth here are my 3 key suggestions in shifting the post 2015 agenda into action:

1.  The top  priority is for UN member states to avoid shying away from the politically difficult decisions. For example  biting the bullet and agreeing on bold time bound carbon emission reduction targets. Industrialised countries like the UK should strive for emissions cuts of at least 40 per cent on 1990 levels by 2020.  It also means businesses committing to emission reductions, although reporting is a good step industry cannot afford to become reliant on reporting alone. Its time for politicians, business leaders and consumers to confront the reality of the situation we face and  accept fundamental changes towards a more sustainable footprint

2.  The report states that without sound institutions, there can be no chance of sustainable development. All nations need to rise towards the challenge of good governance models. During last year’s thematic consultation on governance Tearfund put forward some practical ways to measure transparency, participation and responsive states. Our suggestions included the use of existing global norms and databases that track progress such as the Open Budget Index or World Governance Indicators. This would allow clear guidance on the content of the goals, as well as clarity and comparability in measurement.   In addition there needs to be a greater emphasis on fiscal transparency to enable citizens to see where money invested in their own countries is being spent. Without information and scrutiny it makes the job harder for communities to hold their leaders to account

3. The report recommends that an international conference should take up in more detail the question of finance for sustainable development. The panel suggests that this could be convened by the UN in the first half of 2015 to address in practical terms how to finance the post-2015 agenda. Not the most sexy of topics, nonetheless matching rhetoric with the resources to achieve success must be thoroughly thought through. For the countries where aid is still needed donors and recipients must get smarter at administering aid so that every penny reaches the poorest and most vulnerable. However  it’s clear that we’re moving into an era beyond aid and there is a huge responsibility in mobilising additional resources. For example innovative financing through aviation and shipping towards climate adaptation, tackling fraud to combat the $148 billion lost every year from Africa due to corruption, or what about fully utilising the impact of remittances which by 2014 will surpass half a trillion dollars, four times official development aid. Addressing the money issue needs to happen sooner rather than later.

Last week’s  report is by no means the definitive word on what comes after the MDGs but it does set the tone for next steps. All eyes are now on the Sustainable Development Open Working Group and how the High Level Political Forum will evolve between now and the formation of the new set of goals.

Until then our role as development agencies and those within civil society is to keep opening up the political space for clear, evidence based decision making that demands a response adequate to the size of the global problems we face in the twenty-first century.

 

Can we still make the case for aid?

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.

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

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.

Over 40 years but we finally got there

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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’.

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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.

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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.

Relief to recovery – how can the international community get better at it?

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.

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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!

Can the Church show the aid community how it’s done?

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

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

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.

Monrovia’s Golden Moment

This is a guest blog by Rev Isaac Wheigar.  Isaac is the General Secretary of the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (AEL), which aims to promote peace through the local church and advocate for the poor and marginalised.

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL

Rev Isaac Wheigar, General Secretary of AEL. Source AEL

This week Monrovia, the capital of my country Liberia, is hosting the next stage of global talks on what happens after the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire in 2015 .

The UN High Level Panel meeting will look at the national building blocks for sustained prosperity and, as we are in the business of rebuilding our lives and our nation after civil war, Liberians have much to contribute to this meeting.

The current MDGs have done a good job of focusing attention on some important areas that need to be tackled – like health, education and access to water and sanitation. But while there has been some progress in some areas, it has been patchy and the figures demonstrate the high levels of inequality that still face us across the globe. The political barriers to decreasing this inequality and to ensuring our planet’s resources are protected and shared more fairly just haven’t been addressed.

That’s the message we want the UN panel to hear and implement – we need a new model of growth which has the building blocks of peace, equality, transparent governance and environmental sustainability.

Liberia’s challenge

As one the largest Christian networks in Liberia, AEL works with those who have suffered from the damaging consequences of civil war. We resettle displaced families from refugee camps to their local villages. This can be a very traumatic process so in addition to providing emotional care we are also involved in physical development by distributing food packages and rebuilding homes.

But we continue to see the growing inequalities within communities, particularly for displaced people who lack the security, education, health, income, and employment opportunities to lift themselves out of the poverty trap.

A root cause of this is the global obsession with economic growth at any cost – exploiting the environment, widening the gap between the wealthy and poor, fueling corruption and conflict over land and resources – has not resulted in fair, prosperous and flourishing nations.

For instance our water and sanitation services deteriorated as a result of the civil war. Many people had no choice but to drink from local creeks, which also serve as their latrine, leading to diarrhea .  This is why we advocate for a Water Supply and Sanitation Commission to improve delivery especially in hard to reach communities.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

Clean water collected in Liberia. Source Tearfund.

While most of the world is on track to meet the drinking water MDG target – to halve the proportion of people without safe water and basic sanitation – Liberia is not. Neither is any other country affected by conflict. Approximately 1.2 million Liberians – that’s 32 per cent of the population – lack access to safe drinking water and 83 per cent do not have access to sanitation. Girls suffer most as they bear the burden of collecting water and suffer from lack of privacy in open defecation which makes them vulnerable to rape and other forms of violence.

This kind of inequality can’t continue. While the world has set overall goals to halve poverty, if the poorest are left behind then we are all poorer for it. We need to set goals which don’t just measure overall progress but which seek to improve the lives of the poorest and most marginalised – like girls collecting water in Liberia.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

Liberian girls collecting clean water from a village pump. Source Tearfund.

That’s why we can’t rely on aspirational global goals, but we also need national level targets which set out the ambition to reduce inequality in access, to make sure that the poorest men, women, girls and boys see a tangible difference in their lives too.

The church around the world also has an important role to play in reminding our leaders what the point of the new framework for development should be and what values should drive it.

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 – we owe it to them to address not just their symptoms but the root causes of their distress.

I pray that the meeting in Monrovia doesn’t just focus on technical solutions to specific problems, but helps to build consensus around a new vision for development which is fairer and puts our planet on a sustainable footing.

Skyscrapers and slums – the debate on aid to India rumbles on

Today’s announcement by Justine Greening that there will be no new UK aid grants made to India has reignited the debate on aid, particularly to emerging economies.

Lets’ remind ourselves of a few points:

  • We already knew that the UK Government was winding down aid to India ending all programmes by 2015
  • DFID is maintaining its commitment and will continue to fund and complete current programmes already under way

The latest decision made by the International Development Secretary to not invest in new aid programmes was agreed in consultation with the Indian Government. The change reflects the new political and economic environment that we’re now in which requires a change in the way we finance development.

Tearfund’s Head of Policy, Laura Taylor gave an interview on BBC News this afternoon sharing her experience on a visit to northern India and explained that despite India’s impressive economic growth, two-thirds of the population are living in poverty.

In fact there are still more poor people in India than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. Many Indians are blighted by pollution, flooding, poor drainage and lack of amenities. In addition frequent floods and droughts intensify village hardships.

We know that British aid has achieved a lot from enabling 1.2 million Indian children access education to reaching over 1.6 million women with credit, financial and skills development since 2003[1]. And there’s more to be done through targeted programmes which do not neglect the poorest.

That’s why as Laura explained, in addition to the UK sticking to its aid commitments we need to look at innovative ways to better finance poverty reduction programmes. One way to do this could be revenue from a Green Climate Fund, which would make billions of pounds of difference to the poorest who are the hardest hit and are struggling to adapt to changing climates.

Today’s decision has its pros and cons and we’ve been having this debate about India for a while as my colleague Sarah Hulme blogged about the topic previously.

Through our work with partners on the ground, Tearfund continues to invest in some of India’s poorest communities providing basic services such as education and health, but also giving them the tools to make sure they can monitor their government’s spending choices.

We mustn’t turn our backs on the millions of people who live in poverty or fail to help them build strong governments, businesses and societies of their own.