This week, the UK came together with the other 29 leading donors and members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) to negotiate the next round of decisions to improve the quality of global aid spending. The High Level Meeting was decisive on the next set of reforms of what should count as aid, but as Save the Children has highlighted ahead of the meeting, it also presented a test for UK’s soft power and reputation as a leader for global development. A lot was at stake.
So, did we get the best set of reforms for saving children’s lives and ensuring value for money?
The final outcome, as so often when many leading states are involved, is a mixed bag and not quite as clear cut as the BBC’s or Guardian’s reporting suggests. The issue that dominated the UK’s diplomatic efforts was whether they could count money spent on short term solutions for relatively wealthy countries devastated by environmental catastrophes like Hurricane Irma as aid. The updated agreements don’t represent everything the UK wanted but they do, from a UK government point of view, represent a “real step forward”, as DFID’s Secretary of State Priti Patel stated. From an NGO point of view, the key things that mattered to us were that multilateral ways of taking decisions remained intact, and the outcomes document makes clear once again that aid is there for the poorest.
What happened in detail?
Observers such as Devex or Oxfam and Eurodad have provided a more detailed read-out of what happened, and also reported in a bit more detail on the crucial long-term issues campaigners have advocating on for years.
First, the UK drove forward the issue of short-term support to small island states in the case of emergency. While aid cannot be spent in wealthy countries, donors kicked off a process to systematically look at rapid response mechanisms for crises, to investigate whether countries affected by environmental crises might receive short term humanitarian support in times of need. Members also agreed to discuss the longer-term “reverse-graduation” issues, if there is evidence that a country which has previously had lower income status is at risk of slipping back to it as a result of a disaster. This assessment rightly needs to be based on sound economic modelling. In these discussions going forward, the DAC also strives to put in place criteria that allow for a systematic and consistent donor approach to all Small Island and Developing States for instance, which is key for multilateral agreements.
In regards to the longer term reform agenda, the DAC clarified reporting standards on so-called “in-donor refugee costs”, i.e. aid money spend in a donor country on refugees. In 2016, DAC members provided more aid on IDRC in their own countries (USD 15.4 bn) than in humanitarian aid elsewhere in the world (USD 14.4 bn), hence increased transparency on this spending is a key step to be able to hold donors to account and scrutinise how we target resources effectively.
Furthermore, the outcome communiqué put in place top-line principles for blended finance that will now be turned into practical guidance. While not agreeing the rules on Private Sector Instruments, donors can now report their funding to the Development Finance Institutions as aid, for instance in the UK’s case their spending to the CDC or also the Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, if there is a development purpose behind it. Civil Society has continuously criticised that current measures lack strong safeguards to avoid aid being tied, eroding effectiveness principles, and adverse social, environmental and fiscal consequence. The practical guidance on these issues, and whether it manages to mitigate against the risks, will set the parameters of the DAC’s work going forward.
What does this mean for multilateral ways of working and development priorities?
Multilateral decision making – like in the case of the aid reform – is most often the most effective way of setting global standards. But it is by no means flawless, so it is welcome to see that members also revised the DAC’s mandate, agenda and vision. This includes a firm commitment to increasing engagement with non-member stakeholders such as NGOs and partner countries. This is crucial step towards more structured and open engagement, to ensure aid has the highest impact on the ground.
The OECD also reaffirmed its strong support for the SDGs and the principle to leave no one behind. This is at the core of what Save the Children relentlessly advocates for, and what many leading stakeholders in the global community prioritise. In last night’s speech, Kate Osamor MP, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, laid out the Labour party’s vision for international development and put tackling inequalities front and centre.
The day before, at the launch of our Fighting for Breath campaign the Secretary of State made an equally passionate rallying cry on inequality, arguing that no child should die of pneumonia just because their families are too poor to access treatment. The DAC’s strong commitment to leaving no one behind is therefore the right vision for development and a matter of strong consensus across parties. Number 10 are right to argue that this week’s outcome represents a win for DFID. Now that the rules have been thrashed out, we can get back to focussing on making our aid work harder for the children who need us, including those fighting for breath right now.