Why Humanitarian Aid Matters

From an interview with Gregory Gottlieb, former acting assistant administrator for USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance:

President Donald Trump has made it clear that foreign aid is not a top priority for his administration. His 2018 budget proposal includes steep cuts to the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the United Nations. That policy change could have lasting impact on humanitarian efforts worldwide.

The United States has really helped to build the international system of humanitarian relief. We have been the biggest giver, the donor of last resort in many respects. And if you want to change that, you don’t do it by saying we’re going to cut our budget by 40 percent overnight. That is just going to damage the system. Right now, we—all donors—meet only about 62 percent of what we think humanitarian needs are. You can’t just cut our budget and hope that other nations step in to make up the difference.

“Soft power” like humanitarian aid can be very beneficial and serve as a tool for political advantages. After the tsunami in Asia in 2004, the fact that we supplied humanitarian assistance allowed our military to collaborate with Indonesia’s military. That kind of broke the ice and improved relations between our countries. If you looked at how people there viewed the United States, our ratings went way up. The same in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake—the military did a fantastic job of delivering things, despite what was going on in Afghanistan. Some of the people who did that work are still incredibly well thought of. In South Sudan, our humanitarian assistance opened up a better dialogue between Sudan and South Sudan as they were forced to negotiate about how to move food across the lines.

[Tufts University]

Why do nations invest in international aid? Ask Norway. And China.

Norwegian aid and Chinese aid pursue widely different strategies. While Norway provides substantial funding for budget support and funds civil society organizations, China offers a combination of grants and concessional loans and prioritizes infrastructure development in poor countries.

Given its size and lack of military might, Norway has actively tried to promote the virtues of the Nordic model — a peaceful, rule-based, globalized and prosperous world. It has done this through offering a generous amount of aid, consistently giving away more than 1 percent of its Gross National Income. Such acts of generosity give Norway a seat at the table usually reserved for the bigger players in peace processes or efforts to promote development and reduce poverty around the world.

With China, little distinction is made between grants and loans, and it does not offer detailed information about aid disbursements at country level. In turn, it expects poor countries to offer access to such natural resources as oil, minerals, and agricultural products, which China needs for its own development. China’s approach is characterized by pragmatism. It does not believe in offering aid conditioned on improving local governance or combating corruption. Unlike Western donors, China controls the implementation process by bypassing the public administration of recipient countries, and awards contracts to Chinese companies.

[Washington Post]

African agricultural transformation strategy

The African Development Bank (AfDB) has developed a new initiative called the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) initiative, which includes 25 African countries that have confirmed their readiness to help transform their agriculture.

TAAT is designed to eliminate the current massive importation of food and transform its economies by targeting agriculture as a major source of economic diversification and wealth, as well as a powerful engine for job creation. The initiative should result in almost 513 million tons of additional food production and lift nearly 250 million Africans out of poverty by 2025.

The commodities value chains to benefit from this initiative are rice, cassava, pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut, cowpea, livestock, maize, soya bean, yam, cocoa, coffee, cashew, oil palm, horticulture, beans, wheat and fish.

“TAAT …brings together global players in agriculture, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Food Programme, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Rockefeller Foundation and national and regional agricultural research systems, ” said AfDB President, Akinwumi Adesina, at a TAAT side event at the 2017 World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa.

Adesina explained that TAAT would help break down decades of national boundary-focused seed release systems. Seed companies will have regional business investments, not just national ones, he said. “That will be revolutionary and will open up regional seed industries and markets.”

The African Development Bank, World Bank, AGRA, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation intend to mobilize US $1 billion to help scale up technologies across Africa.

[African Development Bank]

Money spent on MDGs well-invested

A recent Brookings study revealed that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the development agenda set by the US and others for the first fifteen years of this century – were more successful than anybody knew. Bottom line: The study concludes that at least 21 million more people are alive today as a result.

This tells us that the simple MDG approach worked; the U.S. and other, smaller donors helped save a number of lives equivalent to the entire population of Florida. If USAID continues to focus on effective targets, the American public could be reassured that every dollar is achieving the most possible.

The reduction of childhood malnutrition deserves funds. Evidence for Copenhagen Consensus showed that every dollar spent providing better nutrition for 68 million children would produce over $40 in long-term social benefits.

Malaria, too, deserves attention. A single case can be averted for as little as $11. We don’t just stop one persons suffering; we save a community from lost economic productivity. Our economists estimated that reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% would generate a 35-fold return in benefits to society.

Tuberculosis is a disease that has been overlooked and under-funded. Despite being the world’s biggest infectious killer, in 2015 it received just 3.4 per cent of development assistance for health. Reducing TB deaths by 90 per cent would result in 1.3 million fewer deaths. In economic terms, this would bring benefits worth $43 for every dollar spent.

There are 19 such targets that deserve prioritization, because each dollar would do a lot to achieve a safer, healthier world – a result that leads to lasting benefits for the US. When it comes to development, everyone’s goal should be the same. Rather than slashing funds for development, the United States should maintain its global leadership by focusing on the areas where every dollar achieves the most good.

[Inter Press Service]

US humanitarian aid to select countries facing food insecurity and violence

The United States announced more than $575 million in additional humanitarian assistance to the millions of people affected by food insecurity and violence in Yemen, South Sudan, Nigeria, and Somalia.

This additional funding brings the total U.S. humanitarian assistance to nearly $2.5 billion for these four crises since the beginning of Fiscal Year 2017.

The announcement was made by United States Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green at the United Nations General Assembly.  With this new funding, the United States is providing emergency food and nutrition assistance, life-saving medical care, improved sanitation, emergency shelter, and protection for vulnerable groups who have been affected by conflict.  The United States is also providing safe drinking water and supporting health and hygiene programs to treat and prevent disease outbreaks, including cholera, which has taken hold in all four countries.

During today’s announcement, Administrator Green reiterated the U.S. Government’s commitment to working with international and local partners to avert famine and provide life-saving aid to people impacted by these crises.

[USAid]

Closing an HIV lifeline in Africa

President Trump’s re-introduction of the policy banning US government funds from going to organizations with any links to abortion jeopardizes a wide range of healthcare clinics in dozens of countries because family planning advice is often bundled up with other provision.

In all, nearly $9bn is at stake, and hundreds of thousands of women could be affected. Such drastic cuts will inevitably mean the end of programs that have nothing to do with abortion but which provide vital support to people living with the physical, psychological and social implications of HIV.

In Mozambique alone, figures from 2015 show that about 110,000 children aged 14 and under were living with HIV.

Amodefa – the Mozambican Association for Family Development— has various social projects on HIV, tuberculosis, malaria, sexual and reproductive health, and sexual rights. The lives of the poorest women in southern Africa depend on organizations such as this. Yet they will be among the worst affected by Donald Trump’s crackdown on family planning groups around the world. Advocates across the region say the move risks undermining progress in tackling HIV and AIDS in southern Africa, one of the areas hardest hit by the epidemic.

“Projects already approved run the risk of being cancelled, and those that are already ongoing run the risk of not being renewed when they come to an end in September, said  Amodefa director Santos Simione. USAID currently provides $2m of the organization’s $3m annual budget.

[The Guardian]

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]