Wednesday, July 28, 2010

IRIN writes about the performance of the complex aid system.

Dear Colleagues

I have been writing since the early 1980s that the international official relief and development assistance (ORDA) community has performed atrociously ... and after 30 years nothing very much has changed. Unlike most of the people making decisions and allocating resources, I am an engineer and accountant by professional mindset ... and this makes me see the performance of this ORDA community as even more starkly bad.

The IRIN essay is at URL:

The overall conclusion has to be that something very different needs to be done ... but anyone who has done engineering rebuilding within and around an existing structure, this is very difficult. Typically success is achieved by many small steps that are in total going to add up to a complete new framework that works.

The IRIN text is below with my comments interspersed!
GLOBAL: Insights into the ever more complex aid system

DAKAR, 27 July 2010 (IRIN) - As the humanitarian “system” becomes more complex, with new actors and overlapping mandates, different definitions of humanitarian aid, and ever-more ambitious goals, humanitarian aid watchdog Development Initiatives outlines some of the needs, responses and funding trends over the past decade in its 2010 Global Humanitarian Assistance (GHA) report.
I do not think that the present humanitarian "system" is much more complex than it was 30 years ago ... the basic structure is still pretty much the same. But on top of this structure every issue on the planet has some been added into the overhead process and procedures. The unproductive overhead of the ORDA community is way bigger now than it was years ago ... but overhead does not translate easily in cost effective performance ... rather it does the exact opposite.
Here are some of the findings:

Private funding the rising star

NGO Médecins Sans Frontières received US$845 million of private funding in 2009, making it equivalent to the fourth largest donor country.

The total support received outside the UN-NGO Haiti earthquake flash appeal was three times the funding within the appeal, and exceeded total appeal requirements.
The role of private money in funding humanitarian relief is important ... and not surprising. All governments with a few notable exceptions are short of money and humanitarian relief and development assistance is not a priority for most voters. Furthermore, in the overall economic ecosystem the ownership of money is essentially a private matter whether corporate, foundation or individual. Government can talk a lot, but the money comes from somewhere else ... and much money chooses to go around government rather than through or to government!
“Since 2005 there have been a lot of initiatives to bring the humanitarian system together - but what about the actors that remain outside?” asks Jan Kellett, programme leader of the GHA. “There are some very significant non-DAC [OECD member countries’ Development Assistance Committee] donors; and private funding allows NGOs to choose where to spend the money in a more flexible way, which can be problematic for the system as you wouldn’t know what is met and what is not.”
Jan Kellett has this totally wrong ... the problem is not the decision making but the fact that at the end of the day few of the decisions are related to performance in any meaningful way. Most ordinary human beings will make good decisions when they are going to be held accountable ... but where the metrics are completely ineffective, then the use of money and decision making trends to what is the most self-serving, and in the end that is a disaster for performance.

The metrics being used in the ORDA community are completely inadequate, and have been for a very long time. Governments themselves are ill-equipped to do the metrics that are needed, and the solution is not coming from either the academic economists, the political community, or the civil service administrators. Corporate accountancy around money and profit does not help very much ... but a system of value accounting could change everything ... and this is going to happen!
Humanitarian assistance was up US$3.1 billion in 2009 compared with 2006, despite an 11 percent drop in reported government aid in 2009; private contributions increased by 50 percent since 2006, reaching $4.1 billion.

Since 2000, year on year, humanitarian aid has accounted for on average 8.35 percent of DAC governments’ official development aid.
These statistics are not surprising ... private contributions are always very strong when there is a highly publicized serious disaster ... and not strong at all when things are going relatively well and it is just the endemic poverty and dysfunctional economics that is the ubiquitous issue!
Several high-profile disasters have caused humanitarian aid spikes, following which aid then dipped but not to pre-spike levels. These include: Kosovo (1999), Iraq and Afghanistan (2003), the Indian Ocean tsunami and the Kashmir earthquake (2005); and smaller spikes for Afghanistan and Ethiopia in 2008.
Mixing the humanitarian disasters associated with war and government decisions with natural disasters is always problematic ... and confuses the statistics at a macro level. For me these conclusions are of little help in determining anything about performance ... though they make it very clear that performance of government at the highest levels is appalling from a humanitarian value perspective.
“Non-traditional donors” - governments outside DAC, gave US$224 million in 2009 - a sharp drop from the $1.1 billion in 2008 which had been largely due to Saudi Arabia’s contribution to the World Food Programme (WFP) for the food crisis.

Saudi Arabia was the largest non-DAC donor in 2009, giving $51.8 million; followed by United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and the Russian Federation: top recipients were the occupied Palestinian territory, with $99.7 million; followed by Pakistan and Afghanistan.
I have never been particularly impressed with the DAC role in humanitarian relief data collection and analysis after trying to reconcile its data with what was visible in various beneficiary countries. My simple conclusion was that the DAC donor countries were using the DAC to distribute misinformation about their efforts. I also concluded that this was a system problem that needed to be addressed with a completely different system of data acquisition and analysis.
Response to conflict the priority

Some 71 percent of aid in 1999-2008 was spent in conflict-affected states. The top five recipients of government and private humanitarian aid in 2009 were Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Somalia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

Non-humanitarian donor spending on conflict-resolution and peace and security-related activities increased 20-fold between 1998 and 2008, particularly in the areas of peacebuilding and security sector reform, compared with the doubling of humanitarian assistance over the same period.
This is a terrible conclusion ... probably right! Again it confirms the need for society to be holding governments accountable for their behavior not only in the context of votes and elections, but also with respect to trade in war materials and the impact of decisions on the citizenry. For accountability, there has to be the right sort of data ... little of which is now easily accessible.
Some 34 national militaries deployed troops to the Haiti earthquake response.
Back in January there was some optimism that there would be good accountability for the resources mobilized in response to the Haiti disaster. In fact accountability is at a very very low level. Military units rank at the bottom in terms of "accountability" in the traditional way this is done. I argue that in rescue and relief, military should make and accounting of their performance just as everyone else. The data are simple ... how much cost are you claiming you contributed to the effort and what did you do! With value metrics it is possible to convert what was done into a value quantification.
Peacekeeping costs and personnel numbers hit an all-time high in 2009 with $7.4 billion going to UN peacekeeping missions, funding 98,000 personnel; while there were 112,000 non-UN peacekeepers, according to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).

Eight UN peacekeeping missions are currently operational under civilian protection mandates, with the authorization to “use force to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence”. The largest UN peacekeeping missions are in Sudan, DRC, Liberia, Lebanon and Haiti.
The cost of soldiers is very high ... the cost of good governance quite low! The metrics of society are not helping to get resources allocated in the ways that make society function ... and nobody seems to understand or care!
“A major finding is that unless we understand the full complexity of all actors and money, then we cannot implement [humanitarian assistance] correctly,” said Kellett. “Humanitarian aid does not exist in a silo and cannot become an isolated thing in itself.”
Kellett has this right ... but how does anyone go about understanding the full complexity of all actors and money ... and he avoids the answer. The answer is that every actor in society has to be accountable ... there must be value analysis in every community, and for all the social and economic actors in the community ... and with these data, people everywhere will be able to hold their peers accountable.
Measuring need still not accurate

It is very hard to gauge to what degree aid meets needs as there is still no uniform, thorough, objective way of measuring needs, says the GHA.

Most needs assessments are still kept private.

The UN-led Consolidated Appeals Process (CAP) is still often viewed as a sign of needs, but rather: “[It] highlights what organizations present in the country feel they could do with programming they believe they could undertake for the people they believe they could reach. The true scale and severity of need remains out of reach [of the CAP].”

Many humanitarian needs are not included in CAPs. In 2009 $7 billion was spent inside the UN appeals process, while more than $4.1 billion of other humanitarian aid came in; and the unmet part of the appeals was $2.7 billion.
Data needs to be acquired about things that matter ... more and more detail about part of the dataset is not helpful. There needs to be a much clearer understanding at the community level ... and what consequences there are in all corners of society as a result of "big" policy and "big" decisions about allocation of resources!
Who gets what?

Aid to victims of the 2004 tsunami was on average $2,670 per capita; Haiti $993; and DRC $58 (a 10-fold increase on the previous decade in the case of DRC)
This is WRONG ... the money mobilized for aid to victims was maybe these numbers ... but what actually got delivered to needy beneficiaries was a very different number. Nobody has a clue how much of the money was diverted to inappropriate use ... but most people with knowledge of these situations would probably agree that it could be higher than 50%!

Aid for all sectors has increased in line with overall humanitarian aid increases. Food aid has gone up four-fold in the last decade, while low-funded sectors include mine action, coordination and support services, and protection.
And none of the planning has gone much beyond a poor welfare model for support to beneficiaries. What a terrible waste of development potential!
Protection doubled to $385 million between 2003 and 2009 but is still consistently underfunded. International response to natural disasters remains reactive rather than proactive, and prevention and preparedness still struggle to receive due attention and funding; as does education.
And the problem will persist as long as there are no meaningful metrics for "normal" times and getting progress funded in these "normal" times!
Over the last three years, 60 percent of DAC donor aid has been channelled mainly through UN agencies; just under 25 percent went to NGOs and civil society organizations; 0.4 percent to NGOs in developing countries; 0.2 percent to the International Movement of the Red Cross and Red Crescent.
Thanks for the article ... but where is the way forward?

My agenda is simple ... get meaningful metrics everywhere so that more decisions get made that are meaningful for the local community.

I would like to study the full report ... and hopefully I will in due course. I do not expect my basic conclusions to be changed, but reinforced. There is a need for data ... but my guess is that the full report will be more and more about the humanitarian relief silo!

Better metrics are coming. Stay tuned!

Peter Burgess

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