Are we shooting ourselves in the foot?

Another interesting presentation at Nijmegen – again the CIDIN celebrations on 19 September – was by Roger Ridell, who was director of Christain Aid until very recently and author of the book Does foreign aid really work? (You can read a critical review of this book by Simon Maxwell here). I’m going to try to paraphrase Roger Riddell’s arguments and Paul Hoebink’s interventions which went something like this…

Roger Ridell argued that, with this emphasis on evaluation within development, we are shooting ourselves in the foot (my metaphor, not his!). We use evaluations to show that projects and programmes are successful but this takes place in a world in which the poor remain poor, despite aid. In this sense, we are presenting a distorted picture to the public.

Roger Riddell argues that research from Eurobarometer’s surveys of public attitudes to emergency aid demonstrate that public support is not weakened by stories of past failures. The public don’t need good news, something the sector is trying to give them. Although he argued that public support for emergency aid is not weakened by past failures, poverty is the more serious problem: there some 200,000 million deaths worldwide from the diseases of poverty between 1995-2005, 18 times more than from emergencies. 

In a world where the emphasis is placed on the effectiveness of aid, there is a terrible mis-match between needs and allocations because aid is always going to be less effective in very poor countries and in difficult circumstances. As a result, the poorest countries receive less that 40% of all aid which represents less than 9% of their GDP;  technical aid is less effective because it is being undertaken in the most difficult circumstances; and 25% of all official development aid is going to Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan (2005 figures).

After listening to this discussion I then tried to find the relevant Eurobarometer report by searching via Google. I did find this Special Euromonitor on humanitarian aid from 2006 which examines European’s attitudes to development aid. I couldn’t find a quote about European support for humanitarian aid not being weakened by past failures – so perhaps this is just the summary – but it does demonstrate tremendous support for humanitarian aid by 88% of Europe’s citizens with only very small vaiations between countries.

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