Prospects for peace and prosperity in the world’s newest country

Blog by Sarah Pickwick – Policy Officer for  South Sudan

Today the International Development Select Committee published a report on South Sudan, looking at its prospects for peace and development. Tearfund was able to input through both oral and written evidence, to share reflections and recommendations from our programmes and partners.

As I watched our Director being quizzed by the committee I pondered on three questions

a)      Would the things we were calling for be noted?

b)      If so, would it change how DFID operate in-country?

c)      If  DFID did change, would that significantly alter things in South Sudan?

So with that in mind, firstly, what things did Tearfund call for and what has the committee said?

1)     DFID should fund humanitarian needs in South Sudan, alongside development.

In some parts of South Sudan there are ongoing humanitarian needs due to poor harvests, rising food prices, internal insecurity, displacement and so on. Humanitarian needs look set to continue for many years, and so although there is rightly a desire to move towards development, humanitarian efforts should not slow down as a result. There needs to be a mix of approaches, tailored to specific areas/needs, and not a case of either/or.

Infrastructure - like this community-built bridge - will be vital for South Sudan to develop

The committee has taken note of this, in sounding the alarm about the mounting humanitarian crisis  and recommending that DFID may need to ‘focus to a greater extend on humanitarian assistance’. However, at the same time they comment that ‘if the country is to develop, it will need to invest in health, education and infrastructure’, the very things we note in our evidence as key to spurring widespread economic development.

2)     DFID should build the capacity of government structures at all levels.  

A lot of international attention had been on building the capacity of the South Sudanese Government at central level. Although undoubtedly important, this had sometimes been at the expense of capacity building at state, county and district level, where most responsibility for provision of basic services is held.

It is therefore encouraging to see a call for DFID to make sure they have a correct balance, but also for them to ‘use its leverage and influence to persuade other key donors to integrate capacity building support within their own development projects’. The report also acknowledges the church as a service provider, linking to a point we made which is that the church can play a very valuable interim role here, whilst the government’s capacity is built.

3)     DFID should encourage the Government to adequately support returnees and their host communities.

Since October 2010 over 372,000 people have returned to South Sudanbut this puts an additional strain on scarce resources. As well as making practical suggestions we noted that DFID should maintain a state of readiness/flexibility to support emergency WASH and health interventions for returnees should the need arise. Although the report does not go into specifics we were pleased to see the committee encouraging DFID to ‘divert additional resources to assist them [returnees] if required’.

Its encouraging that the Committee has taken note of so many NGO asks. We now wait to see how DFID will respond and whether it will affect the ongoing revision of their South Sudan strategy.

So, what kind of impact might this have on communities in South Sudan?  DFID is but one of many donors in South Sudan and there are multiple and complex issues to deal with. However, DFID expects to spend around £360 million there, between 2011-15, which makes South Sudan one of the largest recipients of UK bilateral aid.  So this report has the potential to indirectly impact millions of lives. And, given the scale of need and levels of poverty in the world’s newest country, it is important that it is used as effectively as possible.


Why the UK Government SHOULDN’T abandon the 0.7% aid target

The House of Lords Committee for Economic Affairs have today published a report which calls on the Government to scrap their plans to make our spend of 0.7% of national income on aid legally binding. Inevitably attracting a lot of media attention, they argue that how the money is spent is much more important than the overall amount and that having a legally-binding target set up the wrong kind of incentives.

They are missing the point for three reasons:

1.We have an obligation to stick to our word. Rich nations promised in 1970 – well before I was born – to give 0.7% of income to help the poorest countries develop.  This promise has so far only been met by a handful of countries and is just one of a string of promises made by the powerful which poor countries have seen broken.  We also promised to work in partnership with developing countries to help achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, and aid will be vital if many of these are to get back on track.

Leaders were praised for renewing aid commitments in 2005.

Back in 2005, world leaders were lauded for reinforcing their aid promises when the G8 met in Gleneagles – what has changed since then?

We might argue that our own country is going through tough economic times.  But the point about a percentage target is that if our own economy shrinks, so does the amount we need to give.  And we are kidding ourselves if we think that the problems of global poverty are not relevant to us.  The financial crisis, climate change and many conflicts have their roots in the actions of rich nations but disproportionately affect people living in poverty. We criticise other countries’ governments for not sticking to their commitments.  We must set an example by sticking to ours.

2.Both aid quality and aid quantity are important.  The Lords are of course right: aid money must be used effectively and shouldn’t be wasted through corruption.  However, their assertion that aid might be being misused just doesn’t stack up, and cannot be used as an excuse for rolling back on a promise.

The UK’s Department for International Development has some of the most rigorous accountability mechanisms in the world, with UK aid impact being assessed by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI) and the International Development Select Committee (IDC) as well as through DFID’s own monitoring evaluation mechanisms. Where regimes are corrupt, DFID choose to work through multilateral organisations or trusted civil society groups instead. There is clear evidence that UK aid works, that it is saving lives, and that it is helping to make communities less dependent on humanitarian support in the long term.  We could end up with an incredibly effective aid programme which is tiny and hardly reaches anyone.  Where we know money can have real results, for real people, how can we sanction any further delay in scaling up aid?

The Lords again raise the question of whether UK aid should go to countries like India.  My colleague Sarah recently set out the arguments for this here.

3. 0.7% is still a tiny proportion of national income but can have a transformational impact.  It’s less than a penny in every pound.  It’s a very small percentage of what we spend on, say, defence. And it doesn’t just benefit the people that it reaches directly, but also helps to make the world a fairer, more secure and more sustainable place.  As Adrian Lovett from ONE pointed out last week, UK aid will put 15.9 million children in school, protect 5.8 million mothers during childbirth, provide safe drinking water to 17 million people and help over 9 million people overcome malnutrition in the next four years.  Surely that is an investment well worth making?

Is the world ready for sustainable development goals?

Secretary of State for the Environment, Caroline Spelman MP

In a speech last week, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman said that the UK Government will be a “driving force” behind a new set of sustainable development goals (which of course have a new acronym: SDGs) which will be discussed at the Rio +20 conference in June.

The idea of sustainable development goals was initially proposed by the Colombian government and has been championed by the, the UN High-Level Panel on Global Sustainability , as well as the UK Government.

It is, of course, absolutely vital that social, economic and environmental concerns are brought much closer together. Delivering social justice and protecting the environment are not only compatible: they are completely inseparable.

An excellent discussion paper published this week by Oxfam  clearly sets out the need for humanity to find a way to live within our planetary boundaries while at the same time ending extreme poverty –with the perhaps rather obvious conclusion that great equality in the distribution and use of the world’s resources will be crucial.

So, presumably it’s clear that the world is not only ready for some sustainable development goals, but that they are actually long overdue?  Well, I’ve read some interesting and useful critiques by Alex Evans , Claire Melamed, Duncan Green  and Charles Kenny and it feels like there are 3 key questions that policy makers should be asking before jumping on the SDG bandwagon.

 1. What is a sustainable development goal?

Is this a sustainable development goal?

 Words like “sustainable” and “development” are over-used and under-defined. The text of the UN’s draft negotiating document is currently very vague about what these goals will actually look like. In her speech, Spelman highlights the need for specific targets on water, energy and food, similar to the MDGs.  But one of the exciting things about the Colombian and Guatamalan proposal  was the desire for goals for sustainable consumption patterns which would apply to every country.  If policy-makers are talking at crossed-purposes, won’t it end in a fudge?


2. Is it politically possible to get meaningful SDGs agreed? 

While Colombia and members of the EU seem potentially keen, big players like USA, China, India seem to be quiet and/ or sceptical.  While they might sign up to some discreet goals on specific areas, it seems doubtful  that the politics are right for agreeing any goals ambitious enough to tackle run-away climate change or to bring us back on track to stay within our planetary boundaries (see recent progress at UNFCCC).  Surely it would be better to have no goals, rather than goals so weak that they are meaningless?

3. How would the SDGs fit with the MDGs?

The negotiating text currently says that, at Rio, some broad areas will be defined for the SDGs; that the actual goals would be set by 2015; and these goals would “complement and strengthen” the MDG agenda.  I’m not sure about you, but it’s not clear to me exactly what this means.  It would be disaster if a parallel process was set up to the one already underway to decide what happens after the MDGs, and if parallel  goals are then set.  A lot of work has already been done one the post-MDG agenda (see our previous blog and the Beyond 2015 website)  and efforts are being made to ensure that this process is participatory, and brings in voices from poor communities.  For the SDGs to have any legitimacy, they must build on this work, rather than replicate or duplicate.

So, what can Rio achieve?

There is a lot of useful work that can be done at Rio: Spelman is right when she says that it must be a work shop rather than a talking shop. My colleague Lis blogged last month on what Rio might deliver. There is potential for a high level declaration on green growth to be produced – probably woolly, but if we’re optimistic, it could could be a helpful narrative-setting piece.  There could be discussions on ways of raising the climate finance that developing countries desperately need to adapt, and to build a greener future – including through the diversion of subsidies which currently go to fossil fuels.

Better company reporting is also on the agenda, as  is work on better measures for development beyond GDP (imaginatively titled GDP+), which is something Tearfund called for in our Wholly Living report.

It would be a shame if a scramble to agree SDGs  diverted attention away from some of these topics. Given where the politics are, and the general lack of faith in multilateralism displayed by some of the superpowers at the moment, maybe it would be better to focus on getting the building blocks rights so that more ambitious and truly transformative goals can be set in the future?

What do you think?  Could the SDGs be the best thing since sliced bread, or a distraction from the difficult conversations needed?



Prevention as well as cure: You want to stamp out tropical disease? Put clean water, sanitation and hygiene at the top of your ‘to do list’.

The Gates Foundation conference today: has sparked an increase in the debate on how to tackle tropical disease, with DFID announcing a five-fold increase in its aid for this area last week. There is no doubt that working with the pharmaceutical industry to increase investment in the treatment:and in some cases eradication, of diseases, such as trachoma and guinea worm which can deform, disable, blind and kill, will be a great step forward.

However, in the current climate: where “value for money” is the mantra, shouldn’t we also be ramping up investment in the measures that stop people from getting sick in the first place? Basic hygiene: proper toilets, an uncontaminated water supply and simple hand washing, can stop these diseases spreading and destroying communities. Every 20 seconds a child under five dies in the developing world from a preventable illness. Clean up the water, and you’re going to make a huge difference.

Working alongside other NGO’s, Tearfund helps to run one of the few health centres in Motot, South Sudan. It offers immunisation, but also explains how a change of hygiene habits can prevent diarrhoea and stop babies getting sick. Families learn that washing their hands with soap after going to the toilet, or before eating, prevents these diseases like bilharzia (which kills 200,000 in Africa each year) from spreading spreading. Latrines too, help to control the flies that carry Chlamydia between children’s faces.

And in Parwan, in central Afghanistan, a low tech solution; Bio-sand filters, are helping to rid stream water of bacteria and worms. One woman told of how this had made a huge difference in her life.

‘We always used to drink from streams and all our children had diarrhoea. This meant high medical bills, because we didn’t understand the problems; the filter is a huge gift as our children are now better’.

In some ways this is stating the obvious.  We all reach straight for the bottled water when in unfamiliar territory to reduce the risk of picking up diseases.  However, what is less obvious is why there appears to be a false divide between those working on medical solutions and those working on water and sanitation – with an imbalance in funding available as well.  At a community level, health workers definitely see these issues as all part of the same problem, so shouldn’t we try to be a bit more “joined up” at the global level as well? It’s a humanitarian priority, and makes economic sense too.

There is some good news. The Sanitation and Water for All Initiative may not be as well known at the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria, or other global health initiatives, but it is doing great work behind the scenes to catalyse action to improve access to safe water and sanitation worldwide.  Just last week, due to the work of Sanitation and Water for All, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf signed a compact which sets out how her government, alongside international donors, will prioritise action in this vital area in the years ahead. This investment will do much to reduce tropical disease in the country as well.

How can we encourage more governments, and donors, to get behind this and do the same?

Of course it’s positive that the Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation, governments, NGO’S and the private sector are all talking about tropical disease prevention around the table today. My message to all of them:  everyone gains if the health sector works with the WASH (water, hygiene and sanitation) sector, and investment in both – both financial and political capital – is vital. Maybe when Gates is next in town, we could have a conference on this?


What’s in store for 2012….?

So, there have been a flurry of interesting reviews of the big international development stories for 2011.  Some of my favourites have included a video diary from IDS  and the ever-eloquent Duncan Green.

Authors have picked up on a number of important themes, including:

  • the emergence of the BRICS as true global powers at conference like the G20 (where Europe had to go cap-in-hand to China), the Busan aid conference and the UN climate talks.

    President Sarkozy greets President Hu Jintao at the G20 (picture by AP)

  •  a shift in focus from inequality between countries to inequality between people (following on from the New Bottom Billion  report launched by Andy Sumner at the end of 2010).
  • analysis of the Arab Spring and what this does (or doesn’t) tell us about the role of social media, leaderless social movements, the future role of women in this region, and a whole host of other things.
  • the various DFID reviews, and their focus on results and value-for-money, for good and for bad.

Rather than write a pale imitation of these,  I have focused on some of the things Tearfund’s policy team are looking forward to in 2012.  In no particular order…..

EU legislation on transparency in the extractives industries

In 2008, exports of oil and minerals from Africa were $393 billion, nearly 9 times the value of international aid ($44

Oil tanks in Ghana (from EU development website)

billion) to the continent. This is why it’s so important that there’s more transparency about how this money is spent. Legislation to amend the Transparency and Accounting Directives has been proposed by the EC, following in the footsteps of the US Dodd-Frank Act 2010 which requires country-level and project-level financial disclosure from all registered companies. We’re really excited that this legislation could become a reality next year as our research has shown that there’s a real appetite for this kind of information amongst local academics, NGOs and communities. So we will be campaigning with churches and partners to get the EU to Unearth the Truth.

UK 0.7% legislation

Draft legislation was drawn up under the last government to enshrine the UK’s commitment to spend 0.7% of GDP on aid in law.  The Coalition promised to see this through after the election and the legislation is expected to be introduced to Parliament early next year.  About time! We’re just hoping that the backlash from certain elements of the press isn’t too strong.

Rio +20

View of Rio

20 years after the original Earth Summit, world leaders will be gathering in Rio again in June to discuss vital issues of how we build a green economy and manage to reduce poverty without sacrificing the environment.  It’s great that there’s a chance to talk about these crucial issues, but so far the chance of agreeing anything concrete looks pretty slim.  We’re hoping that the conference will be a spring board into more dialogue and a hook to talk about some of the themes we explored in our Wholly Living report.  We’re also very excited by the work that A Rocha  and our other brilliant Brazilian partners are doing to mobilise their fellow Brazilians and to get the church to speak out on the urgent need for politicians to grapple with these issues ahead of the conference.

High-level meeting of the Sanitation and Water for All initiative

Maybe not top of the global political agenda – but we think it should be!  It’s a scandal that 2.6 billion people still don’t have access to basic sanitation and almost a billion don’t have clean water.  As part of our Make Life Flow campaign we called on world leaders to agree a new global framework of action to ensure that progress on these important MDG targets accelerated massively.  The Sanitation and Water for All initiative  was duly set up, with former Ghanaian President John Agyekum Kufuor recently announced as their president, and they hold their 2nd High Level meeting in April 2012.  We’re hoping that this will bring donor and recipient governments together (including Finance Ministers, whose involvement is vital) to come up with some sensible and well-funded plans for addressing this crisis.

So, that’s my top 4, but I haven’t even mentioned continued campaigning on new sources of finance for development and climate, like the Robin Hood Tax, or  proposed revenue from aviation and shipping.  Or the interesting debates that are unfolding on how best to spend money allocated for climate change adaptation  and on what should come after the MDGs. The list goes on….

Here’s hoping for a more just and environmentally sustainable 2012.

Beyond Aid: the devil is in the detail

The International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell MP, gave a speech yesterday entitled “Beyond Aid”.  He rightly pointed out that while aid is incredibly important, it is just one weapon amongst many for fighting poverty.

He stressed that we are all in it together – government, the private sector, philanthropists, academics and researchers, and charities and other civil society actors.  And that it’s not just DFID but a host of other government departments that have an important role to play. He listed a range of really important areas – from conflict prevention and peace-building, to tackling climate change, fighting corruption, and increasing trade with and between developing countries – which are all vital parts of the international development narrative.

It is very difficult to argue with this, or to question Mitchell’s obvious passion for his job.  However, I couldn’t help feeling disappointed that his emphasis was on highlighting things that the Coalition Government have done so far, and Britain’s “proud, historic legacy” rather than on concrete things that could be done for developing countries going forward.

While he talked at some length about the importance of tackling corruption, and the role of Ken Clarke as Anti-Corruption champion, the passing of the Bribery Act and the role of the police, Crown Prosecution Service, Serious Fraud Office and others, as well as the (voluntary) Extractives Industry Transparency Initiative, he failed to highlight the legislation which is being considered at EU level which will ensure that all oil, gas and mining companies need to publish what they pay to access resources in developing countries.  In response to a question posed by Tearfund he agreed that this was important and that George Osborne had championed this at an EU level and would continue to do so. So I wonder why he did not say this in the first place?

He also highlighted the importance of helping countries to adapt to the effects of climate change  – and the role that the Hadley Centre and the Met Office play in providing data and research in this field – but failed to mention anything that the government was doing going forward to try to ensure that innovative sources of climate finance were found to help poor countries adapt.  And, in response to another question, he confirmed that the UK government would not support the Robin Hood Tax which Bill Gates had promoted just last week at the G20, unless it was adopted everywhere.

Overall, while  I would definitely agree with the sentiments expressed, it will be a case of waiting to see what this actually means in practice.



What is our sector talking about? A few reflections from a chat with NGOs and Ivan Lewis MP

Following last month’s reshuffle, there is a new Shadow International Development team in Parliament, headed up by Ivan Lewis MP.

Ivan knows the international development scene well, having been a Minister in DFID from 2008-9.  He met with a group of NGOs yesterday, including Tearfund, as part of a listening process – to help him understand some of the key debates in the sector and then shape his own agenda – and I must say that I was impressed with how well he’s already on top of his brief.


Much of what Ivan shared with us is summarised in his recent post on the Guardian development blog. I thought I’d reflect here on what we, as NGOs, seemed to be highlighting as some of the key debates and issues for the sector at the moment. The top 3 priorities that stood out for me were:


(1)  Talking less about aid and more about development.  While there is a critical need to demonstrate the effectiveness and value-for-money of aid to the UK public to quiet the nay-sayers; and to enshrine the government’s commitment to spending 0.7% of GNI in law (to avoid backsliding) it also clear that aid is only a small part of the solution. How can we as NGOs encourage this government, as well as take action ourselves, to talk more about social justice, equality, empowerment and interdependence rather than reinforce the charitable mindset?  In the meeting we talked a lot about a cross-Whitehall approach to development with departments like HMT and BIS needing to play their part – and how this approach could be modelled by the Shadow Cabinet.


(2)  Working out what a “balanced approach” to the private sector looks like. Politicians across the spectrum are keen to stress the important role that business can and must play in driving growth and contributing to development.  But it is also clear that they will only do the latter if the balance of power is right between business, the state and civil society – with each able to hold the other to account.  But what does that look like in practice? NGOs were clear on the need for legislation to ensure that business activity is as transparent as possible (see Tearfund’s Unearth the Truth campaign for an example of some important legislation that we’re calling for), but we need to be able to demonstrate to government that any legislation won’t be merely additional red tape. NGOs also stressed that growth is only good for development if it is green, sustainable and equitable growth.- and better company reporting, as well as payment of appropriate taxes, is required to ensure that companies a deliver this – not just big profits for shareholders.


(3)  Making sure we’re measuring what matters. Fears have been expressed by NGOs that the new focus on a results-based agenda at DFID will skew the focus towards delivering projects where it is easy to see quick results – measuring the number of kids in school, bed nets delivered etc – rather than investing in long-term changes which focus on empowering communities.  However, the challenge has to be finding measures which show the transformational impact that activities other than direct service delivery can have, to enable us to make this case as effectively as possible.  If these are the interventions which really make a difference to communities then we need to be able to demonstrate this in a language – and with figures – that politicians can understand.


So, some reflections from chats with other NGOs and the Opposition.  Today I’m off to hear Andrew Mitchell, the real Secretary of State for International Development, make a keynote speech on the government’s priorities –  so I’ll report back on that tomorrow!





Bill Gates and UK public want action on development

First some good news.  I was really encouraged to see the story in today’s Independent which reports that the public are still strong supporters of the UK aid budget.  When asked what percentage of government expenditure went on aid they guessed, on average, 15% (the real figure is 1.1%).  And when asked what percentage they thought it should be, they said 7%.  So, it looks like there’s a job to do in terms of getting the message out about the real situation and the work that still needs to be done.

Given how generous Tearfund supporters are – and the public in general – when it comes to responding to disasters, it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that they are keen that our government continues to do its bit as well.

And Bill Gates  also offered some welcome support for development today, with the launch of his report to the G20.

He stressed that leaders can’t get so immersed in dealing with the current economic crisis in the eurozone that they lose sight of the ongoing battle to tackle global poverty and help poor communities to tackle climate change – a theme that Paul Cook (in Cannes) expands upon in Tearfund’s latest press release. Gates spells out how vital it will be to innovate to ensure that the finance needed to support the poorest is made available, and expresses support for the adoption of a Robin Hood Tax – as well as taxes on aviation and shipping and greater transparency to ensure that resources from the oil, gas and mining industries are used in a way that benefits poor communities.


This is welcome and high profile support for a number of the things that Tearfund supporters have been campaigning for recently.

However, the other footage coming from Cannes has been less encouraging.  While it has been fascinating to see the new world pecking order emerging – President Hu Jintao of China keeping his host, Sarkozy, waiting for his arrival, and the Chinese, Russians, Brazilians and other being courted for money to bail out former European powers – the fact is that saving rich economies in the short term is taking precedent over saving lives and creating a fairer world in the long term.  Frustrating.  As Gates points out, it is by working together to look for new ways forward which will lead to greener and more equitable growth and this will help us to get through the current crisis.  Let’s hope these leaders start to think about building a different and fairer future, and take concrete steps forward on some of Gates’ suggestions.




Keeping faith in development

Keeping faith in development.

Like Duncan Green I have just returned from a very enjoyable conference at WiltonPark, convened by Oxfam, DFID and Lambeth Palace, to discuss religion, change and development (old-style photo of all participants duly attached!)

Secular NGOs, UN bodies, governments and others are recognising that faith groups are important agents of change and have confessed that this is a blind spot for them – but acknowledge that working with faith groups is often hard.  This conference was an attempt to put some of the difficult topics on the table, and to build mutual understanding. It was slightly frustrating that there weren’t more concrete outcomes, but also refreshing to have a chance to talk into, rather than around, some of the key problems and to build genuine friendships with people from worlds different to our own.

One thing that many speakers raised was the importance of faith groups as the first port of call – and one of the agents of social cohesion – in a disaster.  This is something that Tearfund has recognised and supported for many years and our “Pastors in Disasters” report (more commonly know as Disasters and the Local Church) is being used with churches from Nepal to Niger to help them effectively prepare for, and respond to, disasters.

I’m still processing all that I heard but thought I’d share some of the key questions still buzzing around my head:

1. We say that we want more support for faith groups, but what about Hamas and Hezbollah?  We may assume there’s an obvious distinction between faith groups and political parties but in reality, aren’t all faith groups also political actors? Multiple examples were given of the complicated links between faith and politics – from the support given by the Catholic Church to leaders in Latin America to Bashir telling Imams what to preach in Sudan.  Are we naïve to think that asking donors to support faith groups isn’t going to draw them more deeply into a country’s politics and impact the neutrality of aid? Or is there still plenty of scope to support local faith groups working in the community?

2. Surely it is wrong to believe that faith-based organisations are the only ones in the development processes promoting a particular set of values or world view?  We acknowledged that all donors have their own set of values which may differ from those they are seeking to support.  Some spoke of people within the UN system who view the Declaration on Human Rights as a “sacred text”. While we might be critical of a pastor’s adherence to traditional medicines or idea of democracy, he might be critical of our excessive consumption and environmental footprint. How can all development actors enter into a genuine dialogue with different communities seeking what is really best for poor communities, and be willing to learn as well as to teach?

3. Duncan spoke about the need for NGOs to have red lines about the kind of support they will provide to a community.  He gave examples of community consultations which led to requests for a new mosque (provided, as it was used for many community projects), prayer mats, and knives to carry out female genital mutilation (not provided). He is right that NGOs need our own guidelines based on clear rationale, but what about donors?  If faith groups are seeking institutional money for their work, don’t they need to know what is appropriate to put into a proposal and what isn’t?

According to the Red Cross Code of Conduct, it is wrong for aid to be used for proselytisation – that is, for it to be provided subject to adherence to a particular faith.  So building a mosque was presumably something that Oxfam were comfortable with as long as the building was used to benefit Muslims and non-Muslims.  However, we know that many donors are generally mistrustful of the motives of faith groups, leading to odd requests (one example was given of a JCB provided with the clear stipulation that it shouldn’t be used for evangelism!) or a general tendency to avoid funding them altogether.

Wouldn’t clear guidelines for staff put everyone on a firmer footing, and make open conversation and partnership easier?  It was encouraging to hear that UNICEF are about to publish something which sounds helpful, and that DFID may be moving in this direction as well.

4. One for jargon lovers!  I learnt a new phrase at this conference: institutional isomorphism (the tendency for organisations to mimic other organisations).  It was suggested that if faith-based organisations are funded by secular donors, who set indicators and targets, they will morph into them and the very distinctive that they bring will be destroyed. But surely, if there is an open dialogue about what the overall objectives of the development intervention are, and if a robust faith identity can be met with donors who are confident about engaging with faith groups, then this could be overcome?

There was loads more that was discussed – and more reflections may follow!  But I’d love to hear what others think about these.

Have we got the response to the East Africa food crisis right?

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) has launched a Facebook campaign encouraging people to give up something worth £5 and make that a donation to the East Africa Crisis Appeal. I and lots of my friends, have given up things, from muffins to malbec. To be honest, the prospect of millions of people facing huge hardship and starvation should be enough to put all of us off of our muffins. It is right that we do all that we can to stop this, and that aid agencies work to raise awareness and to respond however they can  – and I’m proud that Tearfund supporters have been responding to our appeal  which will allow our local partners in Kenya and Ethiopia to scale up their work at this time.

However, these appeals have received criticism from some quarters – such as from Jonathan Clayton in The Times – who claims that NGOs are crying wolf .  Whilst I strongly disagree with his accusation that this isn’t a “real emergency”, there is some truth in his argument that, in many ways, the appeal alone cannot solve this crisis.  I absolutely don’t think we should stand by and do nothing.  But perhaps we can do even more to stress the actions that can be taken in the medium to long term to try to prevent a crisis like this happening again in the future.

Tearfund has, for a long time, been calling for greater investment in Disaster Risk Reduction and in building the resilience of communities to help them to weather these kinds of storms.  Our report Investing In Communities, published at the end of last year, showed that, in Malawi, every £1 invested in food security and resilience programmes reaped £24 in net benefits for the local community.  Many of our local partners are involved in this vital work – mobilising communities and building their resilience – day in, day out. It is clear to them that acting to prevent a humanitarian crisis is much cheaper – and much better for communities – than responding to one.

This point is one that DFID highlighted in their recent announcement on the Humanitarian and Emergency Response Review. However, it’s not yet clear how to mobilise enough of this kind of up-front investment.  The fact remains that people – and donors – are motivated to respond when the situation is dire.  Emergency appeals are always easier to raise money for than great, long term, low profile development work – a frustrating truth, that we need to work together to overcome.

It is also clear that building community resilience alone does not go far enough.  While we can’t attribute any single crisis to climate change specifically, we know that climate change is making weather patterns less predictable, which is hitting the poorest hardest through crises such as these.  And we know that it is ongoing levels of poverty that leave these countries particularly vulnerable to drought.

Starvation is never a result of an overall lack of food in the world – it’s just that it is unevenly distributed and those with least resources are least able to afford it. Which is why it is vital that we continue to speak out and advocate for a fair and binding global deal on climate change; for rich countries to stump up the cash that they have promised for both overseas aid (including the $22 billion promised by the G8 in 2009 specifically for food security) and for climate change adaptation, which will allow the kind of long term investment that is needed; and for the root causes of this massive, and sickening global inequality to be addressed.

So, if we’re asking our friends to give up something in order to donate to the DEC, maybe we should ask them to sign a postcard or write a letter to their MP about some of these underlying causes of the food crisis too.  Unless we help people to make these links, there is a real danger that the aid fatigue expressed in The Times will continue to spread.