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Moving Aid from Fire-Fighting to Long-Term Results

WASHINGTON, Sep 23 2011 (IPS) - Civil society organisations weighed in Friday on the risks and necessities associated with results-driven aid, asking the key question when it comes to a development project: Results for whom? Donors, or the people on the ground?

In an event sponsored by Oxfam International on Friday during the World Bank’s annual fall meetings, civil society organisations from around the world contributed their experience to the debate, calling for aid organisations to rethink their approach.

“Shorter-term outcomes are easiest to measure, and politically, more saleable,” said Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities and former administrator for USAID.

McPherson said that solving short-term goals is often a matter of fire-fighting, or solving immediate, serious, problems, often putting projects that could have long-term effects on the back burner.

The results for a development project can be deceptive, panelists said – an increase in enrollment in schools does not necessarily mean an improvement in literacy levels, for example, which ultimately means that the project will be ineffective in changing the society in which it is operating.

“But if you’re not careful, everything gets skewed, [like] longer term creation -technology, human resources, institutional building – all of the things which you can’t measure as easily or often,” McPherson said. “The donor community tends to push the short term.”

Nader Nadery, commissioner of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, echoed these sentiments on the panel on Friday, arguing that in Afghanistan, the lack of progress was due to immediate expectations for projects.

“Sometimes, it’s very ambitious, people may want to see change overnight,” Nadery said.

This focus on greater context for development projects has been a theme of the international finance institution’s meetings this year, with increased attention paid toward civic engagement and responsibility in creating accountable governments and development projects.

Friday’s panel ramps up attention for results of the Busan Agenda meetings in South Korea this November, to convene the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4), which will offer both quantitative results of projects in recent years and suggestions for new focal points in development projects, such as focusing on long- term impacts, and using those who will be impacted by projects to name the results they want achieved.

“This notion of country ownership should not be equated with government ownership,” said Richard Ssewakirvanga, executive director of the Uganda National NGO Forum. “It should be about how a citizen is actually owning the development process.”

The civil society panel occurred just one day after the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) released a report monitoring the 2005 Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, which painted a bleak picture for the goals set six years ago.

According to the report by the OECD which tracked more than 100 aid donors and developing countries, only one out of 13 targets set has been achieved as of 2010 – the goal of increasing “coordinated technical cooperation”.

“Developing countries have come through with their part of the programme, they’re improving, but how are we doing on the donor side? Not so well,” said Paul O’Brien, vice president for policy and campaigns at Oxfam America, who moderated the panel discussion. “Basically, we talk to each other better.”

Despite this seeming setback, O’Brien said that he and others were still optimistic about the progress made towards the next 12 goals, especially amongst developing countries who have been working to create enabling environments for aid.

Ssewakirvanga said that development projects, in tandem with civil society organisations and governments themselves, should have this enabling theme in mind.

“Let’s think of it not as a place where we ask governments to do things for us, but a place where the government creates conditions that allow me to actually do what I’m supposed to do,” said Ssewakirvanga.

Civil society organisations have weighed in on the debate of effective aid, with some arguing that “real aid”, or the money that can be and is used by governments for development, should be a major measure to determine the effectiveness of projects.

Lucia Fry, a policy advisor for ActionAid, an international non- governmental organisation focused on alleviating poverty, said that “real aid” was a benchmark in determining how aid dependency amongst developing nations can be reduced.

“This is a story that gets missed, because there’s the idea that aid is a bottomless pit,” Fry told IPS. “But if we see where the money is going, if we put it to use in catalysing domestic revenues, increasing domestic accountability, we’ll see results.”

Numbers show that on average, dependency on aid in low income countries has actually gone down by about one third since 2000, or down by 12 percent of the average country’s expenditure, according to an ActionAid report.

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