Redesigning the architecture of US Foreign Aid

Donald Trump is hardly the first U.S. president to call for bureaucratic reorganization to improve government efficiency and effectiveness. But his demand for disproportionate cuts in international spending, his attacks on multilateral cooperation, and his aversion to “soft power” make it clear that his agenda is to sideline, not strengthen, U.S. foreign policy institutions.

Thus when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced his intention to conduct a “complete and comprehensive review” of aid effectiveness, development advocates jumped to preempt what they feared might be a bid to dismantle the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) by putting together proposals for evidence-based, results-oriented reform.

The first of those proposals is now in: a discussion draft of a new foreign aid architecture released by the co-chairs of the Modernizing Foreign Assistance Network (MFAN). The MFAN proposal would give the development agency control over the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), currently an independent agency, as well as the AIDS relief and refugee assistance programs now overseen by the State Department. The proposal would eliminate USAID’s regional bureaus and consolidate all development programs into five “centers” based on broad functional categories.

[Read full article]

Aid credibility figures at stake

Some of the world’s richest European countries spend billions at home that they report as “aid”, exploiting a loophole that enables them to cut vital development budgets.

Under current accounting rules, the costs of receiving refugees can count towards a donor country’s total overseas development assistance (ODA).

In 2016, leading donor countries reported $15.4 billion of domestic spending on refugees as ODA, a huge rise from $3.9 billion in 2012 and several times more than they spend on refugees abroad.

That’s also more than they spent on emergency aid in foreign countries, and more than three times the income of the UN refugee agency.

[Read full article]

Watchdog says State Dept. failing to adequately track US foreign aid

The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) have failed to adequately track the more than $30 billion they spend annually on foreign aid, according to a government watchdog report released Friday.

The report released by the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General noted that the department has failed to build infrastructure for tracking billions of dollars in foreign aid despite being ordered to do so in 2015. According to the report, little progress has been made at all. The report’s summary faults the State Department, saying it “had not complied with the report’s recommendation” in 2015.

The Trump administration has suggested cutting the State Department’s budget for foreign aid by 37 percent. The move was blasted by members of Trump’s own party, who called the idea a “disaster.”

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan responded to the report in a memo, saying the department accepted the watchdog recommendations and would begin implementing them.

[The Hill]

Investing in poor children saves more lives per dollar spent, UNICEF study finds

Investing in the health and survival of the most deprived children and communities provides more value for money than investing in less deprived groups, saving almost twice as many lives for every $1 million spent, according to a new study by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

“The evidence is compelling: Investing in the poorest children is not only right in principle, it is also right in practice – saving more lives for every dollar spent,” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a press release on the study, titled Narrowing the Gaps.

The study backs up an unconventional prediction UNICEF made in 2010: the higher cost of reaching the poorest children would be outweighed by greater results.

“This is critical news for governments working to end all preventable child deaths at a time when every dollar counts,” Mr. Lake said, noting that investing equitably in children’s health also helps break intergenerational cycles of poverty and gives them a better chance of learning more in school and earning more as an adult.

The study analyzed new data from the 51 countries where around 80 per cent of all newborn and under-five deaths occur. It assessed access to six high-impact maternal, newborn and child health interventions: the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, early initiation of breastfeeding, antenatal care, full vaccination, the presence of a skilled birth attendant during delivery, and seeking care for children with diarrhea, fever or pneumonia.

[UN News Centre]

A fresh look at Global Africa

Global Africa is a striking, original volume that disrupts the dominant narratives that continue to frame our discussion of Africa, complicating conventional views of the region as a place of violence, despair, and victimhood.

This new book documents the significant global connections, circulations, and contributions that African people, ideas, and goods have made throughout the world—from the United States and South Asia to Latin America, Europe, and elsewhere.

Through succinct and engaging pieces by scholars, policy makers, activists, and journalists, the volume provides a wholly original view of a continent at the center of global historical processes rather than on the periphery. Global Africa offers fresh, complex, and insightful visions of a continent in flux.

“In much writing about Africa, the continent is portrayed either as a self-contained space or as a region whose fate has been determined from outside—by enslavement, colonization, and, indeed, ‘globalization.’ The rich variety of contributions to Global Africa point to more diverse and complex ways of thinking about the importance and limitations of Africa’s connections to the rest of the world.”—Frederick Cooper, author of Africa in the World: Capitalism, Empire, Nation-State

[Amazon]

Bill Clinton on proposed US foreign aid cuts

Drastic reductions to the U.S. foreign aid budget would be “a bad thing” because the relatively small amount of money is well-spent, former President Bill Clinton told a coalition of U.S. humanitarian and development groups on Tuesday.

“It’s a bad thing if the government cuts US AID, because it’s a little bit of money doing an outsize amount of good,” Clinton said.

The Trump administration wants to cut funding to the U.S. Agency for International Development by nearly one third in the fiscal year starting in October. There is strong congressional opposition to the proposal, part of efforts to slash the diplomatic and development budget from $54.9 billion to $37.6 billion.

Clinton was speaking to InterAction, which says the cuts would be “devastating” at a time when famine threatens the lives of 30 million people and conflict has displaced 65 million worldwide, an all-time high.

He said responding to challenges such as climate change and poverty required interdependence rather than an “us and them” mentality, which has gained traction in response to some of the negative effects of globalization.

[Associated Press]

Foreign aid can work wonders

Foreign aid can work wonders. It set South Korea and Taiwan on the path to riches, helped extinguish smallpox in the 1970s and has almost eliminated polio.

Aid can also burden weak bureaucracies in developing nations, distort markets, prop up dictators and help prolong civil wars.

A decade ago governments rich and poor set out to define good aid. They declared that aid should be for improving the lot of poor people [and] it should be coordinated.

Official development aid, which includes grants, loans, technical advice and debt forgiveness, is worth about $130 billion a year. The channels originating in Berlin, London, Paris, Tokyo and Washington are deep and fast-flowing; others are rivulets, though the Nordic countries are generous for their size.

More than two-fifths flows through multilateral outfits such as the World Bank, the UN and the Global Fund. Last year 9% was spent on refugees in donor countries, reflecting the surge of migrants to Europe.

[The Economist]

Is international aid to Haiti a failure?

Excerpts of a EURACTIV France interview with Joel Boutroue, formerly the deputy special representative of the secretary general of the United Nations for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti:

Haiti is one of many poor countries where international aid has failed to fulfil its objectives. Despite billions of dollars being pumped in, little has changed since the disastrous earthquake of 2010. Beyond poor governance in Haiti, which is the central problem, agriculture is still a big problem. Haiti is an agrarian country but no investment has been made in this sector, there has been no implementation of sustainable practices.

The second big issue is education. It has deteriorated at a terrifying pace these last few decades. Until the 1960s, the Haitians were exporters of knowledge but today the level is catastrophic.

And finally, the third issue is water and sanitation. Haiti is an open sewer in need of treatment. This challenge comes upstream of any action on health, because the population in poisoning itself. There is not one sewer, not one sanitation station in the whole country. This is an enormous problem and will only grow with demographic expansion: Haiti’s population will grow from 11 million to 18 million in 40 years.

Haiti is often described as the NGO republic, which is not entirely false. The NGOs financed by international donors pay very little heed to the Haitian state. But in so doing, the state becomes marginalized and weakened in its interactions with the population. And this creates other problems. Aid in Haiti is not a partnership, it is not a relationship of equals.

Donors are often caught between a rock and a hard place. One the one hand there is the need to demonstrate tangible results to their own citizens and show that their money has served a purpose. On the other hand, the beneficiary country only has a certain capacity for absorption. And many donors, either out of cynicism or laziness, pursue short term interests.

The end of Foreign Aid as we know it?

According to a detailed 15-page State Department budget document obtained by Foreign Policy, President Trump has vowed to drastically cut assistance to developing countries. Additionally, Trump administration officials are considering folding USAID into the State Department.

The agency anticipates that the budget proposal will necessitate eliminating 30 to 35 of its field missions while cutting its regional bureaus by roughly 65 percent. In addition to closing missions, global health funding is also targeted, with 41 countries facing cuts.

Likewise, the Bureau for Food Security is slated to lose 68 percent of its funding. This would reduce development aid geared toward preventing food shortages and may instead force the United States and other donor countries to spend more resources on emergency food assistance.

Other programs and offices that are on the chopping block include the ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, the Office of the Coordinator for Cyber Issues, and the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership.

Foreign-policy and national security experts on both sides of the aisle have argued that the cuts pose concrete risks to U.S. security interests.

[Foreign Policy]

Who gives 0.7% of their gross national income to overseas aid?

Under legislation approved in 2015, the UK government is legally required to spend 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on overseas development assistance (ODA), popularly known as foreign aid. And Microsoft founder Bill Gates has urged the UK to maintain its promise to spend 0.7% of national income on overseas aid, warning that reducing the commitment would cost lives.

According to the latest figures from the OECD, in 2016 two G7 countries met this target: the UK and, for the first time, Germany. Other countries that spent at least 0.7% were Sweden, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Denmark and Norway.

Earlier this year, British Prime Minister Theresa May described the target as a “critical pillar” of the country’s foreign policy. But some Conservative MPs and newspapers have suggested that the figure is too high and should not be maintained after the election.

The top 10 country recipients of UK aid in 2015 were Pakistan, Ethiopia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Sierra Leone, South Sudan, Tanzania, India and Bangladesh. Humanitarian projects received the largest proportion of aid in 2015.

 [BBC]

Top European givers

Despite budgetary constraints, the European Union and its member states have collectively managed to keep their place as the world’s largest aid donor. Below is a overview of six major European donors.

United Kingdom – One of the only major aid actors with a development ministry responsible for both policy and implementation, the United Kingdom is also the first country to enshrine in law the U.N. target to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on aid every year. U.K. aid is praised for its clear focus on the neediest. Out of the 28 countries it prioritizes, 21 are fragile and conflict-affected states.

Germany – These are promising times for the world’s third biggest bilateral donor. After undergoing major reforms in 2011, German foreign aid is seeking to be more selective and strategic in its spending priorities. But for the time being, Germany’s political commitment to focus on the poorest countries, especially in Africa, has yet to be reflected in its ODA allocations.

France – President François Hollande’s budgetary choices might have set the country back by more than a decade in reaching the 0.7 percent aid target, but France is expected to stabilize its aid budget. In the next few years, French ODA is further slated to increase the amount dedicated to climate change.

Sweden – Despite the global financial crisis, Sweden’s aid program has managed to stay the course.  Since 2006, the Nordic country has maintained its ODA at around one percent of its GNI. In line with its strong poverty focus, most of Sweden’s bilateral aid resources are directed to low income countries and fragile states. Three specific priorities drive Sweden’s aid giving: democracy and human rights; environment and climate change; and gender equality and the role of women in development. Sweden has also been particularly reactive to the critical situation in the Middle East.

The Netherlands – The Netherlands was one of the first countries to meet the ambitious goal of spending at least 0.7 percent of its GNI on ODA, but Dutch aid has plummeted in recent years.  Historically focused on social sectors, Dutch aid is now increasingly geared toward economic development and national interests.

Norway – Known for its long-standing commitment to high aid targets, Norway disbursed 1 percent of its gross national income in 2014 — making it the third most generous OECD DAC member in terms of its ODA/GNI ratio after Sweden and Luxembourg. In the future, ODA levels are likely to be maintained at this level. Norway is one of the world’s most committed donors to least-developed countries. Global education especially in conflict or disaster contexts — a topic which has been sliding off the aid agenda of many top donors — is another area where Norway is trying to lead the way.

[DeVex]

British Cabinet split over foreign aid spending

Government Ministers have urged British Prime Minister Theresa May to drop Britain’s commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on helping poorer countries, and have proposed diverting money to a new combined defense and security budget.

The UK, the world’s third-biggest donor, spends £13 billion per year on aid, and the Prime Minister has stood by the spending commitment despite pressure to reduce it following a series of scandals over where the money goes.

Some ministers believe Britain is doing more than its fair share when it comes to helping poorer countries, and point to the fact that the average spend by other wealthy nations is just 0.4 per cent of GNI.

In fact, the USA spends just 0.18 per cent.

Mrs May, however, has made it clear that she is a supporter of the 0.7 per cent spending pledge and remains “fully committed” to it. Priti Patel, the International Development Secretary, also sees the commitment as a key part of the post-Brexit “global Britain” brand.

A Whitehall source explained: “A lot of the world’s biggest problems, such as disease, mass migration and terrorism, are incubated in countries affected by conflict, such as Somalia, Yemen and South Sudan.

[The Telegraph]

Why Trump should use Foreign Aid to make America great

Investing in global health is essential to the safety, security, and future prosperity of the United States. In addition to the humanitarian case for foreign aid, there are three very powerful reasons, which are aligned with President Donald Trump’s populist “America first” vision, why the administration should maintain and even spend more on global health.

  1. Deadly epidemics threaten US lives and prosperity – Over the course of the past two decades, we have faced numerous periodic crises stemming from infectious diseases, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), swine flu, Ebola, and now the Zika virus. Each of these cost US lives and billions of US dollars in response. By investing in health research to develop and stockpile new vaccines and drugs, and stronger health systems to deliver these preventive tools and cures, we will get out ahead of new infectious diseases before they become global disasters.
  2. Foreign Aid for health yields huge returns for the United States – Every US dollar spent on HIV prevention and treatment generates $10 in health and productivity benefits for the countries mounting large AIDS programs with our help, as a result of the infections and deaths averted; every dollar spent on tuberculosis generates $30 in societal benefits. US leadership in global health has helped produce remarkable improvements in global well-being.
  3. It strengthens US leadership on the global stage and counters our rivals – The United States launched its first international health programs in Africa after World War II out of Cold War ideological concerns. These early investments in health were motivated by the belief that training health professionals and controlling infectious disease would improve the population’s quality of life, and in turn, reduce their susceptibility to communism. Since that time, global health aid has continued to serve as an economically efficient way for the United States to promote its values and promote conditions that discourage turmoil around the world, from which the United States stands to gain in the long term.

If we cut our aid and leave a vacuum, it will be filled by US rivals, starting with China. Chinese foreign aid is growing fast, at an annual rate of more than 20 percent per year, and is rapidly catching up with US assistance. Chinese health aid to Africa in particular has grown rapidly. China is now one of the top ten bilateral global health donors to Africa and provided at least US$3 billion dollars in African health aid from 2000 to 2012. If our health support to developing nations … is severely curtailed, we should expect China to fill the void.

In addition, withdrawal of US support for health in areas affected by military conflict and military crisis could lead to the entry of non-state actors whose views are antithetical to those of the United States. Health aid can help fight the underlying causes of terrorism.

[Read full article at Health Affairs Blog]

Hillary Clinton warns President Trump of ‘grave mistake’ of cutting Foreign Aid

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned that she thinks President Trump is making a “grave mistake” on foreign aid. In a speech on women’s rights at Georgetown University, Clinton said Trump’s proposed cuts to international aid in his budget would undermine American diplomacy.

“Turning our back on diplomacy won’t make our country safer,” Clinton said. “It will undermine our security and our standing in our world.”

Clinton’s comments about Trump came in a talk that was largely an impassioned call for advancing women’s rights around the world.

“Advancing the rights and full participation of women and girls is the great unfinished business of the 21st century, she said. “It is not a partisan issue, it is a human issue. A rising tide of women’s rights lifts entire nations.”

[TIME]

Trump White House wants to slash billions from international grants and aid

The White House is proposing $17 billion in spending cuts from levels Congress approved in 2016, focusing on medical research grants, scientific research grants, education and foreign aid.

Internationally, the White House’s 2017 proposal would cut $300 million from PEPFAR, an international program to combat HIV and AIDS focused mainly in Africa.

The White House would also eliminate or drastically cut its foreign aid programs it says lack a significant return on investment for taxpayers. These include international food aid and security grants, rural business grants, Community Development Financial Institution grants, the AmeriCorps and Senior Corps services programs, and grants meant to improve literacy and physical education.

Funding levels are ultimately set by Congress, not the president, and White House spending proposals are routinely ignored by lawmakers. Many of the proposed cuts are unlikely to end up in legislation.

[The Hill]

How Foreign Aid Helps Americans

Foreign aid projects keep Americans safe. And by promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.

For one thing, it helps prevent epidemics. The most recent Ebola outbreak in West Africa killed more than 11,000 people, but the death toll would have been much worse if the disease had spread widely in neighboring Nigeria, an international travel hub that’s home to 180 million people. What contained it? Among other things, a group of health workers who were stationed there for an anti-polio campaign. They were quickly reassigned to the Ebola fight, and their efforts helped stop the disease—and keep it from crossing the Atlantic to the United States.

Another example is America’s global HIV/AIDS effort, known as PEPFAR. There are 11 million people with HIV who are alive today because of the medicines that it provides. Many more never got the virus in the first place because of prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.

This is not simply a humanitarian accomplishment. For those countries it means more teachers, entrepreneurs, police officers, and health-care workers contributing to strong, stable societies.

Better health puts nations on the path to self-sufficiency. How? When health improves, people decide to have fewer children, because they’re confident that the children they do have will survive into adulthood. As family size drops, it gets easier for countries to feed, educate, and provide opportunity for their people—and that is one of the best ways to stabilize any vulnerable region.

A more stable world is good for everyone. But there are other ways that aid benefits Americans in particular. It strengthens markets for U.S. goods: of our top 15 trade partners, 11 are former aid recipients.

US foreign aid represents less than 1 percent of the federal budget, not even a penny out of every dollar. It is some of the best return on investment anywhere in government. This money is well spent, it has an enormous impact, and it ought to be maintained.

[Read full article by Bill Gates]

Bill Gates meets Trump to argue for foreign aid

Tech billionaire Bill Gates met with President Donald Trump and highlighted the “indispensable role that the United States has played in achieving these gains,” his foundation said in a statement.

Gates wrote a blog post Friday to argue that the U.S. shouldn’t slash humanitarian aid. Spending on projects overseas helps “keep Americans safe,” Gates wrote.

“By promoting health, security, and economic opportunity, they stabilize vulnerable parts of the world.”

American aid, Gates wrote, helps prevent and eradicate epidemics, citing polio and Ebola as examples.

To illustrate the security benefits of international aid, he praised former President Bush’s efforts to combat HIV/AIDS abroad with a program known as PEPFAR. Eleven million people with HIV are alive because of the program, Gates said, and “many more never got the virus in the first place because of the prevention efforts supported by PEPFAR.” What this meant, he continued is that there were more teachers, entrepreneurs, and other workers “contributing to strong, stable societies,” and Gates pointed to a study that showed that political instability and violence in African countries with PEPFAR dropped signficantly, compared to when PEPFAR was not in use.

[CBS]

International aid under the new US Presidency

Since coming to power, President Trump has signed a slew of executive orders. One, the executive order ‘Auditing and Reducing US. Funding of International Organizations’ aims to slash a minimum of 40% of funding to multilateral institutions, such as the UN and the World Bank. While the executive order is apparently being mulled over by departments concerned within the new administration, if it is put into effect without much modification, this order will have major international implications. The US is, after all, the largest donor of international aid in the world today.

It is understandable that the new US administration wants to cut its expenditures and focus on increased growth. However, there are other areas than the international aid budget, where such cuts can be exercised. This past year, the US military budget easily dwarfed the rest of the world. With a defense budget of around $597 billion, it was almost as much as the next 14 countries put together.

The new US administration’s proposed reduction of support to international organizations is troubling. Tackling the reasons of conflict instead of putting in place security-based interventions is the more sensible choice, as it is less expensive, and it also deters needless human suffering.

It would have also been great to see the US pay more attention to why the UN system, the World Bank, the IMF, and other major development agencies, continue to produce such lacklustre results in delivering human development goals. Tangible proposals by the new US administration to make the existing aid agencies more accountable would also have been welcomed. However, simply tightening the purse strings of available international aid instead, will not bode well for anyone.

[The Express Tribune]

United Arab Emirates $8.8 billion in foreign aid

Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, Chairwomen of International Humanitarian City in Dubai, called for establishing a data bank to allow governments to document their humanitarian work. 

The Humanitarian Logistic Data Bank will depend on of the use of technology in charitable aid for a quick response to those in need, said Princess Haya, wife of Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, during the second day of the World Government Summit.

“We have to move away from conventional ways of providing aid. Innovation is necessary for humanitarian aid,” she said to a crowd of delegates, as she highlighted the role of smartphones in changing forms of aid in developing countries such as limiting the spread of Ebola in west Africa and targeting those in need in a quick manner. Drones and satellites were among the technologies that helped in providing aid.

Princess Haya noted that the United Arab Emirates has topped the list of donors to foreign aid, reporting a 34 per cent increase in 2015, reaching $8.8 billion.

She praised the UAE food bank initiative, recently launched by Shaikh Mohammed for the Year of Giving. “While reports show that current food waste is worth $2.6 trillion, which can feed three times of world’s population including the 800 million hungry people.”

[Khaleej Times]

Determining if developing aid to poor countries really works

It seems like a no-brainer. Before you spend big bucks on a massive effort to improve life for the world’s poorest — say, distributing millions of free bed nets against malarial mosquitoes, or offering thousands of women microloans as small as $200 to start small businesses — you should run a smaller scale test to make sure the idea actually works. After all, just because a project sounds good in theory doesn’t mean it’s going to pan out in practice.

Or maybe some totally different method wouldn’t achieve better results for less money? For instance, maybe the key to lifting women’s incomes isn’t helping them start a small business but helping them land a salaried job?

Yet for decades, questions like this have been left unanswered.

Instead  health and development aid for the world’s poorest has largely been designed based on what seems reasonable, rather than what can be proved with hard evidence.

However, in the early 2000s a growing movement of social science researchers have been pushing policy-makers to do “impact evaluations” of their programs.

[NPR]