THE REAL PROBLEM WITH AID
Why poverty increased, not decreased
by Phil Bartle, PhD
Aid has not only failed to reduce poverty; It has contributd to an increase in poverty
INTRODUCTION; WHAT DID THE AID DO?
Half a century; a trillion dollars in aid. What can we show for it?
The short answer is that it is a result of how we delivered the aid.
THE PROBLEM IS HOW WE DELIVERED IT
The main argument: How we have delivered it is the issue. It was not merely a failure of aid to reduce poverty
Bono and his ilk are wrong: more money is not needed. We do not need good willed amateurs who do not understand the nature of aid
There were other factors that contributed to the rise of poverty, such as unfair trade practices, and the five factors of poverty within the affected countries but not directly attibutable to the way aid was delivered.
That "way" is the main perpetrator of the criminal increase in poverty.
When you give alms to a beggar, you do not end his begging; you encourage it.
Alleviation of poverty caused it to increase.
This sounds like a drastic and over generalized statement. Please give me this opportunity to explain here. My purpose is not merely to criticize but to point the way to how we can modify delivery of aid so as to reduce rather than to increase poverty.
HOW DO WE DELIVER AID?
In terms of amount of money, most aid is delivered bilaterally or multilaterally from governments in wealthy countries. A much smaller proportion of aid comes through NGOs, and many of those contribute to genuine poverty reduction and sustainable development, and this critique would not apply to them.
The major methodology is the “Charity Model” or "Charity Mode." This is an appropriate method for an emergency response to natural and man made disaster: civil war, war, earthquake, tsunami, volcanic eruption, major oil spill. Response should be rapid and aimed at reducing deaths and illness. Where the charity mode is appropriate, this critique would not apply.
The problem is that we have been using the charity mode to deliver development aid to end poverty and increase better government, economy and confidence. Doing that, we increase the problems rather than decrease them.
Aid agencies, bilateral and multilateral, are obligated to spend money. Host country officials know this and have taken advantage of it for half a century. Aid agencies in each host country compete with one another, and are encouraged to hide misspending and diversion of resources to private pockets. Revealing them reveals their failures.
So long as the aid money is channelled through government departments, the government officials will search for ways to divert those funds.
“No strings attached,” is an ironical, hypocritical red herring. Politicians and civil servants will have the aid donors believe that they speak for the people of their host country. Far from the truth. They speak for their own vested interests and opportunism.
Tax payers in donor countries have a right to demand that the money their governments spend goes to where it is intended, and does the job for which it was intended. Attach strings; the right strings.
Finding out what the people (not the civil servants) want must be an integral part in the process of aid project design and implementation. We must not blindly give them anything they want, however, but challenge them to justify their choices, and educate them on the consequences of their choices. This requires more work for the donor agencies.
If host officials object, then the same answer would apply as forcommunity mobilisers. Walk away.
We should aim for aid money improving the lives of the greatest number of people, and that should be mainly poor people, not officials.Donor agencies should be transparent in saying that on their project documents, and making their policy public in the host countries. If officials are not paid highly enough, then it is the responsibility of the host government to raise their salaries, not allow them to divertaid money intended for sustained development.
Aid agencies need to be instructed to and given the power to suspend payments, and to withdraw a project if the host government officials do not comply.
Current competition between donor agencies should be recognised and reduced. That competition contriutes to their overlooking diversion.
Donors need to be united in their overall policy.
Support must come from the very top and follow through to all levels.
Understanding of developmental principles (and consequences of deviations) must be thorough at all levels.
Project documents should clearly spell out the developmental and anti dependency elements of their objectives.
NGOs ARE NOT THE PROBLEM OR THE SOLUTION
Generally, NGOs are not the problem, they are too small to make a noticable difference
Mainline aid should not be channelled through the NGOs.
If NGOs got bigger, they would resemble the big donors, where the problems lie.
NGOs come and go, leaving vacuums and dependencies.
NGOs like to do things their own way, and do not easily fit into a national program. This contributes to regional inequities
NGOs set up parallels to the host government, causing long term problems.
It is the big donors: governments, The UN, World bank and regional banks.
Their model is the "Charity Model" and there lies the problem.
European development, after WWII (Marshall Plan) happened in spite of it. Why? They lacked the "poverty of spirit" found in developing countries. Charity mode was OK as a response to a disaster such as the war.
THE CHARITY MODE
The "Charity Mode" is responsible for two ways of increasing poverty
TRANSFORMATION; NOT CONTINUUM
A massive transformation is needed (to move to a Sustainable Development Model).
The UN uses the word "Continuum" to designate the move from a charity mode (as in emergency response) to a sustainable development mode. The metaphor of shifting gears from first gear to second gear is sometimes used. This is deceptive. It is not a continuum, but a major transformation, and it is more like shifting from reverse gear to first gear.
This site has a module on transforming a single agency from operating in an emergncy response (charity) mode to converting to an abilty to operate in a community empowerment mode. It would be useful to compare it with the transformation here, at a world wide international aid level.
Pay particular attention to the medical metaphor. After a patient breaks a bone, emergency response calls for a plaster of paris cast and strong pain killers. As with charity aid, the patient can become addicted to those, and must be weaned from them or lose strength.
Charity Aid junkies need to kick the addiction.
BARRIERS TO OVERCOME
There are some very strong hindrances to the transformation. Most of them are vested interests.
While individuals with vested interests will resist the needed transformation, group decisions in Parliaments and General Assembly are more likely to work. They can have more power than the individuals. Those group decisions are more likely to work when it is emphasised that the needed changes will reverse the current trend of increased poverty.
WORLD LEVEL ACTIVISM
A massive worldwide groundswell of desire for change is needed.
Activists can initiate and stimulate the growth of the groundswell. Anyone can be an activist. All that is needed is a desire for a change, and willingness to learn the skills in the training documents on this site.
The best overall strategy is to organize many small groups, and avoid a monolithic single organization. A loose alliance is all that is then needed. Recall the slogan, "Think globally; act locally.
That activism needs to include some imporant information or education: "What is wrong? Something for nothing. The charity mode promotes dependency and corruption, thus more poverty." While backed up with scientific research and references, the message needs to be kept as simple as possible.
Political Will is also needed
Activists can work towards instilling it in national and internatinoal leaders, by aiming for an active population, press and opinion leaders to put pressure on those leaders.
A set of structural changes is needed (and they must be understood)
CONCLUSION: THE PROBLEM CALLS FOR SOLUTIONS
There is a problem. Solutions are available. This module can guide us towards finding them and implementing them.
This document is not a description of the ultimate solution. Instead it is intended to identify the scope of the problem and the solution needed, and to point us all in the direction necessary to change for the better the way aid is delivered.
How we can change aid to reduce poverty
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