Saturday, March 27, 2010

Relief and development ... is anything really going to change?

The following was posted on the High Impact Philanthropy Blog at the University of Pennsylvania
“The Quake” is a thoughtful, exhaustive exploration of the unnaturally deadly disaster and spiraling humanitarian crisis that threatens to confound the largest global relief effort in modern memory. It features an exclusive interview with Partners In Health founder and long-time Haiti advocate Paul Farmer where he states:

“This is an opportunity to rethink how aid works and how we, the most powerful country in this part of the world, can work with our oldest neighbor. So I think all that possibility is built into this tragedy.”

Secretary Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive and Former President and UN Special Envoy, Bill Clinton are also interviewed. Former President Clinton: “The Haitians have been abused by outsiders, neglected by outsiders, helped, but in a paternalistic, ineffective way by outsiders. They’ve engaged in self-abuse. They’ve had all kinds of problems. And they wanted finally to seize control of their own destiny.”

You can get a sneak preview of “The Quake” at where you will find embeddable videos and more information.
I posted the following (slightly edited) response:
I am responding to the note about “The Quake” and the observation quoted from an interview with Dr. Paul Farmer, founder of Partners In Health and long-time Haiti advocate that: “This is an opportunity to rethink how aid works and how we, the most powerful country in this part of the world, can work with our oldest neighbor. So I think all that possibility is built into this tragedy.”

Bottom line the activities of the international relief and development assistance community are moving along very well worn tracks. There are plenty of people including myself who have a lot of experience and know something about the field of international relief and development. The problem is that what needs to be done is at odds with the people who are in control of the system … as Muhammad Yunus has observed: “When poor people are working for long hours seven days a week and still remain poor … there is something wrong with the system”.

In my experience it is not just one thing that is wrong with the system, but many things. It is amazing how much money is disbursed to do so little in the international official relied and development assistance field … my estimate is that most things are costing around 10 times as much as they should be costing … but who knows about this? Nobody … and why? Because there is no accountability that is worth a damn and because the metrics of cost effectiveness and cost efficiency are either not in place or not working.

And getting value for money? Nobody knows about this because … again, the metrics about this are not in place or not working. There is rampant leakage of resources … and hardly any accounting and financial checks and balances. For some reason nobody seems to be very interested in getting strong financial controls in place … including the actors with good reputations ... which leaves an open field for bad actors.

Why this aversion to accountability … which includes as far as I can see Partners in Health? Either they do not know how to have effective accountability or they do not want to control the resources effectively! Neither are good reasons. Accounting and accountability are handles internally behind a veil of secrecy ... whatever happened to transparency?

The area of progress and performance metrics is in sad disarray … but it need not be. The technology and the concepts are available … I think people know how to do it, but the will to do it is absent. This is going to carry over into the planning and implementing of the rebuilding process. Analysis of the socio-economic dynamics of rebuilding seem to be absent from the process of planning … and this sets the stage for a lot of money doing rather little. In the past, in Haiti, the creation of a lot of national debt has produced very little of progress out of poverty … what is different this time?

Peter Burgess
Community Analytics (CA)
The issues are deep and complex ... but the way development has been done over the past fifty years has not worked, and, as Dambisa Moyo of Zambia writes in her book "Dead Aid", there has to be a better way. The problem is that a different way does not automatically mean a better way. The draft plan being circulated at this time does not seem to have any clarity about how best to get an optimum outcome from the funds being made available ... and that is a fairly clear indication that there are going to be performance issues as the program goes forward.

I would like to be optimistic, but I am not. I have tried to communicate with Partners in Health, but it is not easy ... like impossible. At some level I understand this ... but it means that only insiders are having their say!

Peter Burgess
Community Analytics (CA)

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