Sunday, May 23, 2010

Funding development ... better use of funds is critical

Dear Colleagues

As most readers will probably know, I am an outspoken critic of the performance of the global relief and development industry. This is one of the reasons why Community Analytics (CA) has been developed. There is a need for metrics that are more appropriate for a complex environment that is not only about money and profit.

I am constantly surprised how few people are as demanding as I am to see progress and performance. I posted the following a few days ago. Peter O is an African friend who had made important remarks to the group about community initiatives!
Dear Colleagues

Please pay attention to what Peter O has to say ... he is a long time friend, and knows something about the issues faced by rural agricultural communities in his part of Africa.

As many of you know I am en engineer turned economist turned accountant. I am interested in money getting used efficiently and effectively ... and, as Dambisa Moyo (author of Dead Aid) has observed when talking about aid into Africa ... 60 years and a trillion dollars and little to show for it ... there has to be a better way. With this sort of performance it seems that it is time to criticize and in a very noisy way in order to get attention.

Money is needed ... but it should be used so that there are valuable outcomes. The case of malaria is interesting ... there has been a big increase in funding to combat malaria in the last five years ... from around $100 million a year to more than $2 billion a year. How is this money being spent? Most of the money is being spent on a range of popular interventions (bednets and ACTs) and academic research which are not moving us forward to a sustainable solution. Performance data are conspicuously absent though there is no lack of PR!

Money spent well in the relief and development sector has a huge value ... but not much is spent well ... and accountability is near zero!

Peter Burgess
I was surprised to get this pushback! In the following message I am one of the Peters, the other is my African friend in Kenya.
Peters. The only subsaharan country receving as "much" as 0.18 US D per day per inhabitant is Mozambique which have one of the fastest growth rates in the world. The effect of treated mosquito nets is well documented at scales where analysis and experiments are possible. Blasting aid in general as so many others do, is not getting easier to get funding for even better solutions (like low-cost multipurpose in-situ water conservation to prevent formation of mosquito breeding-pits, see my climate article at my profile page). DEVELOPMENT-aid is clearly associated with increased growth the subsequent time period. More recent data show it now (unlike earlier) particularly works in Africa. By Torsten Mandal Independent agroforestry and soil fertility specialist
My response to this follows. Maybe I am being a little harsh ... but the causality of better performance is not more disbursement on its own, it is more disbursement into a system that works rather than one that is dysfunctional. There are differences!
Dear Colleagues

Thank you Torsten for challenging my criticism of the global relief and development industry ... but I stand by my criticism today, just as I have for the best part of the last thirty years. With a trillion dollars disbursed over the past 60 years, one would hope that the key institutions would have a few good stories ... but the bleak reality is that for every good story they have, there are perhaps 10 ... or 100 that are abysmal failures.

My career as a consultant to the World Bank and the UN had promise ... but eventually was not a great success, because the reason for so many of the failures were obvious to any decent honest analyst. Sadly that was not what the "client" wanted to hear!

Accountants "follow the money" and the combination of sloppy disbursement and questionable government systems ended up with a large leakage that was never accounted for. In recent years and in some countries, things are getting better ... but not very fast, and not completely by a long shot. There is both PR progress and real progress ... and sometimes these are quite far apart!

As you point out, good projects can make a huge difference ... but the money must be used for things that are effective and have impact.

I cannot agree with your observation that the effectiveness of insecticide treated bednets is well documented. There is great PR material about bednet performance ... but considering that billions of dollars have been spent on bednets, the data about effectiveness are minuscule. Bearing in mind that effectiveness is about both cost and impact ... and malaria comes back just as fast as it disappears unless you there is an appropriate complete portfolio of interventions in place to get sustainable results ... what is going on at the moment is more about benefit for the industry participants than benefit for people affected by endemic malaria. My work on malaria is not "popular" but with so much money being disbursed it would be nice if the results were to be documented and sustainable!

Your reference to Mozambique is interesting ... some parts of Mozambique are doing well, and as you observe they have some metrics that suggest causality between amount being spent and progress. What I know of Mozambique is that there are a host of other "externalities" that are helping, not least their proximity to South Africa and the low starting point following their wars of independence and the subsequent internal conflict.

Like you, I want more money to flow into the relief and development sector ... but I want more benefit to be coming out of the sector as a result of more money. And for this, as you know, I advocate for metrics that are able to measure progress and performance at the community level where real people live!

Better results in Africa are more associated with improved government management of resources than simply more disbursements ... and only a very few places are improving significantly.

These are big issues ... not easily dismissed.

Peter Burgess

1 comment:

  1. Hi Peter,

    I include most of my reply to your reply.

    Malaria: All agree that bednets are important (when used) and so are the costs. I saw a study from the coast of Tanzania or Kenya where it worked fairly well, and here and see the same from w. Kenya. Possibilities for improvement and alternatives for this and much other aid are probably many, but so are the e.g. benefits of even poorly distributed and used nets. Contourhedges could be a way of integrationg sustainable malaria-prevention, soil fertility and bio-char. Brickmakers make both pits, ash and char and need trees. Abandoned fish ponds is a problem, and fodder trees (only calliandra among the legumes) may help.

    Aid: I think aid could be more sustainable and beneficial for the rural poor if they had good access to solutions the could afford to do/buy without finacial subsidies and giving both short and long term benefits, incl. reducing the key land-use/food/environment problems. That is what I have focused on developing and some donors supported sometimes (research, training, consultancies). When the basic needs and inputs can be provided sustainably by local people, then more progress and growth get possible.

    Google my name and iop pdf to find a climate change article of mine on how e.g. surface run-off can be reduced or stopped at low cost with many benefits.