Real aid can end aid dependency

Displaced people in the DRC
Displaced people in the DRC
Photo: Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

On 6th April, the OECD published figures showing how much money was given in development aid in 2010.

In reaction, the EU’s Development Commissioner, Andris Piebalgs, congratulated the EU on being “by far the leading donor worldwide”, quickly adding that aid budgets must be increased if the EU is to meet its 2015 targets and remain credible.

But analysis of the data suggests that Piebalgs was too quick to congratulate EU member states. The figures revealed that the EU had missed its 2010 targets - 0.56% of GNI in aid by 2010 – by a whopping €14.5 billion.

Poor progress by some of the bigger economies is to blame for the EU’s collective target being missed. Italy alone accounted for over 50% of the EU's aid shortfall, closely followed by Germany on 35%, with many countries making cuts in their aid budgets that were disproportionate to other areas of spending.

This puts the EU well off track on its commitment to the 2015 target of 0.7% and sends a poor signal in a year that is supposed to focus on revitalising aid commitments.

The financial crisis is often used as an excuse for countries not meeting their aid commitments. But countries such as the UK have managed to keep on track.

Others, such as Spain and Italy, have gone the other way, making cuts to their aid budgets which are far greater than those made to other sectors.

So is this a crisis of budgets or a crisis of commitment? 

One thing is clear; unpredictable aid flows and breaking promises will have a serious impact on the EU’s credibility and even more seriously, a devastating impact on the lives of the poor.

But there are opportunities for change. EU leaders can show they are serious about poverty eradication by agreeing to set binding year-on-year timetables for aid increases at June’s European summit.

They can also establish minimal but compulsory levels of aid for those countries that are way off track. Aid efforts can also be reformed to make aid work for people.

Later in the year, heads of states will roll into Busan, South Korea, in November for the ‘High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness’. Their mission is to look at the results of the Paris Declaration and decide what should replace it.

We want to see European leaders seizing this opportunity to make aid work.

This means making sure that aid is poverty focused, it means ending conditionality and tied aid and pushing for transparency. It means that when donors talk about results, value for money and making every euro count, they say it with poor people in mind.

If aid quality is really improved, developing countries will, with time, be able to phase out their dependence on aid.

The EU must commit to delivering real aid that works heading into Busan and beyond.