The UK aid review: How is development money best spent?
A couple of weeks ago the the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) published a review where it proposes to make major changes in the way it determines funding to multilateral organizations and to governments. The rationale behind the review is to spend money where it is effective and provides the most value for UK taxpayers, and the review considered both how well managed the programs are and how much the purpose of the programs align with UK interests.
The result of the review is that many organizations and countries will receive more funds from DFID, while others will be completely cut off. There are a couple of trends we can see in this review:
Organizations that deliver concrete services will get more funding.
Organizations that build schools, provide vaccinations, medicines and other health services, and are active in humanitarian emergencies, like UNICEF and The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria were generally found to provide excellent 'value for money'. There is strong evidence of the positive impact these activities have on people's lives, and it is relatively easy to measure the results.
Countries that are a perceived security threat to the UK will get more funding
As part of the move towards aligning UK aid with taxpayers' interest, countries that are suspected of being a training ground for terrorists (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Somalia), and countries where the UK has a historical relationship (India) will be getting more money. Countries like Burundi, Niger and Lesotho, despite widespread poverty, will see their funding cut.
Now, aid from the UK is not the only source of funding for organizations and countries, but what will happen if more donors adopt this focus on measurable results and spending in line with national interests?
Organizations that work on rights, standards and global justice will suffer
While it is incredibly important to deliver health, education and emergency services to those in need, we should not ignore the injustices and structural problems that often cause these problems in the first place. Organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO), which advocates for workers' rights and sets minimum standards for workers' wages and working conditions, have a tough time measuring the results of their work or proving that an improvement in law or policy was due to their specific activities. They are usually the result of a complex process where citizens, governments and organizations work together and no one alone can take the credit. Cutting funding to this type of work will risk to worsen the living conditions for many people, leading to an even bigger need for services.
And what about human rights?
One can wonder what citizens in countries like Burundi and Niger are thinking right now. They have huge unmet needs, yet the funding from the UK will stop because they are not perceived as a security threat to the UK. While we sometimes have to make very difficult decisions about where to spend aid resources, focusing on narrow donor interests completely ignores the human rights and dignity of citizens in many of the poorest countries in the world.
What do you think? Is the DFID right in its new approach to aid?