23 July 2010

New UK aid to Afghanistan: Will it reduce poverty?

It's been trailed for so long, that the announcement of a 40% increase in UK ODA to Afghanistan over the next few years does not come as much of a surprise (the trailing has worked).

There has been some (but not as much as I had expected) negative public reaction to the DFID announcement.

The main complaint is that this new allocation will divert money away from poverty reduction. Again, this type of response has been signalled for quite some time.

So, will it? I think it is too early to pass judgement yet.

We don't yet know what the aid will be spent on, who will administer it and how it will be tracked and evaluated.

Choices in these areas will go a long way towards determining if this ODA will work for poverty reduction.

These choices matter because the relationship between poverty reduction and conflict is complex. For example, parents don't want to send their children to school and they can't go to health clinics if physical insecurity levels are high. On the other hand if increased ODA means propping up a government that has little legitimacy then fewer schools and health clinics will be built. The latter is a real worry--Foreign Policy magazine's just-released Failed States Index shows Afghanistan moving up the index to 6th, after Somalia, Chad, Sudan, Zimbabwe and the DRC.

Who will spend it?
Will this ODA be administered by DFID or by the Foreign Office or Defence? This is important because it will influence what it will be spent on and how it will be tracked and evaluated. I cannot find any information on who will actually administer it.

What will it be spent on?
Afghanistan's poverty and malnutrition indicators are similar to those of South Asian countries, so there are plenty of competing needs for the aid. Most of DFID's current aid spend in Afghanistan is allocated to "governance" of which a big chunk is on setting up and supporting community development councils as part of the multi donor supported National Solidarity Programme. There are also programmes to support water infrastructure, alternatives to poppy growing, job creation, and making the government more effective. There is also the objective of promoting stability and development in Helmand. It is the last category that people are worried about. Is this really going to reduce poverty and stay true to DFID's mission?

How will it be evaluated?
Transparency: The big current projects listed in DFID's project database have reassuring titles (rural development, microfinance, strengthening tax administration), but there are no projects listed with start dates in 2010, so this needs updating.
Accountability: We need to know more about what is behind the project titles, current and new. This analysis will require effort and would make for lots of interesting graduate dissertations.
Impact: Will the aid "work to get rid of extreme poverty"? The only way to assess this is to subject the new aid to the same level of scrutiny as current aid--whether or not it is administered by DFID. The new aid watchdog should be an ODA watchdog not a DFID-only watchdog.

Increasing ODA to Afghanistan--whether or not controlled by DFID--is not necessarily a bad thing for poverty reduction, but it could easily become so. We must be vigilant about ODA spending making a difference, whichever department spends it.

If we are going to have a "One HMG" (Her Majesty's Government) strategy on international development, we need one set of values and standards for guiding and evaluating it.


Jeneral28 said...

I thought it's can't be counted as ODA if its spent by the FCO and especially the MOD--especially for non-developmental purposes.

Or do we have to read classify/re-name the aid to Afghanistan?

And how would you define a failed state personally? Thanks


Naysan Adlparvar said...

I liked the argument you developed about the need for more accountable aid expenditure regardless of who spends it. However, I think there is a concern to be aired regarding who spends it. From some of my research it appears that aid to Afghanistan has become increasingly politicised (to the neglect of the very serious humanitarian and developmental needs highlighted by the onset of the recent financial, food, fuel and climate crises). Aid has been systematically tracked away from DFID (who have been very resistant to engage in Helmand and in pursuing the British's stabilisation approach to 'development'). Only after senior staff were replaced did DFID come 'on side'! Increasingly, ODA is being spent by FCO and used to support military operations. Rather than utilising ODA in a politically-astute manner (as is arguably required in Afghanistan) the FCO are using ODA for political gain, and in relation to military operations the Stabilisation Unit (although administered by DFID) continue to undertake 'development' activities that are unlikely to contribute to any sustainable political or social change.

Even DFID's programming is very Governance, Rule of Law, and Justice focussed (which was driven by Number 10, rather than needs on the ground). Even when they address Livelihoods the focus is on National Economic Growth (rather than poverty reduction specific programming) and Counter Narcotics - the latter driven by FCO. Independently, these points could be argued for but taken as a whole I think it is quite worrying and demands concern.

Magpie said...


No - other UK government departments than DFID can have their spend count as ODA - but only if it meets the OECD/DAC definitions. This is all likely to appear in DFID's annual statistical reports in future.

Lawrence said...

Jiesheng, Mapie is right, although the DAC definitions of ODA are by no means watertight.
Naysan..really interesting..what evidence were you able to draw on for your Helmand work? On the non-Helmand DFID work I think I am less worried, but it would be good to know what is in those project docs and to know how they will play out..I wonder how we find out?
Thanks for the comments..