A stark and terrible reminder of why development is important

Often debates about international development (especially among practitioners) swiftly turn towards the shortcomings of the development system, the huge challenges ahead, and the question of whether it all matters. Among this talk, it is often forgotten that the ultimate purpose of development is to improve the lives of people.
Two terrible pieces of news coming from East Africa this weekend have provided a stark reminder that, very often, more development means not only better quality of life, but also more safety for the population and less likelyhood of things like this happenning:

Zanzibar ferry death toll could rise sharply: VP

Photo Reuters: Beatrice Spadacini

The death toll from Tanzania’s ferry disaster could significantly rise after it emerged there were more than 1,000 passengers aboard the vessel when it capsized last week, a senior Zanzibar official said on Monday.

Initial reports suggested the MV Spice Islander was carrying 800 people, well above the ferry’s 600 passenger capacity, when it sank in the east African nation’s worst maritime disaster for 15 years.

«We are expecting some more bodies between now, tomorrow or the day after. We managed to recover 197 bodies, but because the ship took more than 1,000 people, we expect more bodies,» Zanzibar’s second vice-president, Seif Ali Iddi, told Reuters.

More than 600 passengers were rescued from the ferry and the vice president of the semi-autonomous archipelago said he does not expect any more survivors to be found.


Kenyan police find 75 bodies in slum fire

Photo: REUTERS/via Reuters TV

At least 75 bodies have been recovered after petrol that had spilled into an open sewer caught fire and sent a wave of flame through a densely populated slum in the Kenyan capital, police said on Monday.

Kenyan media said more than 100 people were burnt to death and a similar number were taken to hospital. Police said it was proving difficult to establish the exact number of dead among the charred remains.

Residents said petrol spilled from a fuel depot owned by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) and ran into a sewage dyke that runs under the slum, known as Sinai. The petrol ignited, causing an inferno.

Two incidents which – at least in Spain – have got almost no media attention despite the terrible loss of lives (at least 320 people), proving again how cheap African lives have become in the present world, and which could have been easily prevented if safety measures and quality controls had been in place. Something that requires economic and political development, and more accountability to those responsible for this.

Spain and the future of international cooperation. Towards real development effectiveness?

A few days ago I published a new policy brief for FRIDE – this time dealing with Spanish development cooperation and the road to the next forum on aid effectiveness in Busan, and the future of cooperation more generally. Here is the teaser:

The IV High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan (Korea), at the end of the year, will be a key event for development cooperation.
In the run up to this Forum Spain, as well as advancing the implementation of the aid effectiveness agenda – something which, in the current economic climate, requires a greater political commitment – should contribute to a greater association between donor and partner countries, especially those active in South-South cooperation.

The ultimate goal of this association must be the transformation of the aid effectiveness agenda into a real development effectiveness agenda, key for the future multipolar architecture of development cooperation.

You can dowload the complete publication clicking here

Music break – ‘Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)’

So many (and many horrific) things going on around the world these days, it is hard to keep up. I have a couple of reflections on what is happening in North Africa, I hope to post in the next couple of days.
For the time being – a well deserved music break for all of you out there. This is so much of a break it has nothing to do with Africa, but it is such a beautiful song, and one inspired by a good cause – «Paul Farmer’s quest to transform global health policy through the work of his NGO Partners in Health in Haiti» (h/t UN Dispatch) – I hope you can forgive it.

Welcome the ‘militar-aid’?

Protesters flee through a cloud of teargas during clashes in Cairo. Photograph: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters. Source
Recent news point donors may have found a way of halting the dwindling committment to development aid brought about by the financial crisis: linking development aid and military spending.
Since coming into power the UK’s conservative government has sought to link sustained aid spending with the dangers poised by unstable states global insecurity. This is what the British foreign secretary says about this:

We are also placing a much greater emphasis on conflict prevention in our National Security Strategy. We are increasing the amount we devote to international development, so that from 2013 we will spend 0.7 percent of GNI on aid. Within that we are doubling our investment in aid for fragile and unstable countries over the next five years, so that we will spend nearly a third of our aid budget in fragile and conflict-affected states. This assistance will help to create security in some of the poorest countries in the world.

This justification of aid based on self-interested motive is – as Owen Barder writes – not a good idea.
Now, come the news that Holland directly wants:

the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to count military spending for promoting peace and security in developing nations as development aid.

And, also, growing concerns that the

proposed merger of the European Union’s humanitarian aid and crisis management budgets after 2013 would increasingly politicize the bloc’s aid.

This trend of linking security and development has been on the increase for a while, and it presents important problems, as Michael Young writes in this Foreign Affairs article, «Development at Gunpoint«:

militarized aid is ineffective as an ongoing strategy for four reasons: the pressure to spend huge funding quickly, the inability to match human resources with project management demands, the dominance of short-term political goals over longer-term development needs, and the focus of aid on certain groups for tactical gain.

Problems also highlighted by the recent DARA Humanitarian Index 2010 (blogged before), which shows:

the increasing politicization and militarization of humanitarian aid which compromises effective assistance to vulnerable populations and endangers humanitarian workers.

And if this is not enough, can people in charge of these budgets simply look at their TV screens? Doesn’t the result of spending massive amounts of aid in the military of countries like Egypt not make them want to give this idea a second thought?

What did the G20 deliver for development?

Last week’s G 20 summit in Seoul came and went; so, what are we left with in terms of development policy? There had been much talk about the emerging Seoul Consensus (for example this background paper (via) , or this Oxfam publication – which arguably came up with the label of «Seoul development consensus». But, when push came to shove, what did the summit deliver?
Not much – or rather, nothing – according to Bill Easterly:

Did it occur to any of the G20 sherpas that it would have been better to say, “we have nothing new on development” than to produce such vacuous babble then actually goes backward even from the dismally modest record of previous summits?

This, it seems, is a pretty harsh judgement and others have expressed a more optimistic comment, for example, Lawrence MacDonald from the Centre for Global Development sees the summit documents as having:

the potential to become more important with the passage of time, especially if the development community seizes upon them as opportunities to press the big economies for pro-development policies and spreads the word. Here, then, is my list of three Seoul sleepers:
– The Seoul Development Consensus for Shared Growth. The six G-20 development principles articulated in this brief document are eminently sensible…
– The Multi-Year Action Plan for Development. Korean officials were right to push hard for a detailed document with specific commitments and deadlines (…)
In the coming weeks policy experts (including some here at CGD) and development advocates will want to unpack these commitments, figure out which are most promising, and then use them to press for progress….
G-20 Anti-Corruption Action Plan. The least noticed Seoul Summit outcome may prove to be the most important. The nine-point anticorruption plan includes pledges to prevent corrupt officials from being able to travel abroad with impunity, to support the recovery of proceeds of corruption stowed abroad, and to enact and implement whistle-blower protection rules. As with development, it’s the first time that the G-20, created to deal specifically with the 2008 financial crisis, has taken up transparency and governance issues. (…)
Perhaps the biggest disappointment from the Seoul Summit was the mealy-mouthed promise to make progress on providing the world’s poorest countries with duty-free, quota-free access to the G-20 markets.

On noting what the Seoul Consensus that emerged from the summit may mean for development, the Sherpa Times provides the following commentary, and illustrates it with a word-cloud from the documents, in which the most notable point is actually what is not there:

just for fun, we put the Seoul Development Consensus through a Wordle which underlines the economic growth model. Try to find ‘MDGs’ (I can’t).


So it seems the Korean G20 was the final nail in the coffin of the Gleneagles aid commitments – which are now relics of a richer time. Although the G20 will work on infrastructure and ‘growth’, the investments will most likely not reach the small scale producers or businesses but be confined to projects that help transport raw materials out of developing countries.
So the outcomes of Seoul are a major disappointment. However, development did make the agenda which was a great result …
The Seoul Development Consensus in the end lets the G8 countries off the hook as it did not link to any of their previous aid commitments and did not demand any action from the remaining 12 countries. Instead, the paper is a list of expectations and reports for the future with no political capital or resources expended.

The agreement then, appears to be that including development on the G20 agenda constitutes a considerable step, which I would agree it is – especially if the G20 evolves from being an emergency solution to the economic crisis to the key driving force for international cooperation (the implications of this – in both practical and normative terms – constitute another debate altogether). But the actual document seems to harbour more potential than actual content. This also seems to be the:

NGO industry’s verdict of the G20 Summit which is almost 100% consistent in saying ‘yes, but’. The NGO industry almost unanimously welcomes the G20’s focus on development and are excited by the new framework but caution that more needs to be done. This convergence of opinion is one of the most positive responses to a G Summit and is a great outcome for the Korean hosts, but also underlines the NGO sector’s utter confusion about the role of the G20.
The development NGOs struggled with analysing the G20 communique through the traditional development lens as the G20 did not include these issues on the agenda. Many of these NGOs praised the new approach but made vague calls for more action.

The Sherpa then includes a list of responses ranging from the happiest to the bleakest, with Save the Children and The One Campaign being the happiest, and Greenpeace and Tck Tck Tck the unhappiest (WWF and Oxfam did not post their reactions).
My take on all this is two-fold: first, the inclusion of development is indeed a welcome move, but to expect firm commitments in Seoul (especially in terms of resources) was unrealistic; there is much to be done, but the space – with a development working group in place – is there. Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Seoul development consensus’ focus on growth, (private) investment, key sectors (like infrastructure), etc marks a departure from the central role occupied during the past few years by the Millenium Development Goals (MDG) (a shift mirrorred by other donors like the EU and Wold Bank). Commitment to the MDGs must continue – and there is people working for this – but the focus on growth is both a sign of the current state of things, and a sufficiently firm basis and open commitment for the coming years. A commitment which which can (and should) be shaped by the adjectives (“inclusive”; “equitable”; “sustainable”) chosen the rest of the development community.