While politicians grapple with setting course to achieve the SDGs, they need to look at the core function of development aid and the role it can and should play in leaving no one behind.Over the past few years, I have seen few policy instruments lose as much traction and commitment as aid, also known as Official Development Assistance (ODA), has. Perhaps with the exception of the UK, which has enshrined a commitment to allocating 0.7 % of its annual GDP towards aid into law, and some donors like Germany and France who seem to be increasing their ODA, most countries appear to have said goodbye to the aid as it was. They have slashed aid budgets and are using more and more aid to meet domestic financing needs. Once, a generous donor, The Netherlands is an example of this trend. Having spent more than 23% of its aid budget in-country last year, it is gaining a reputation for downsizing the development sector and promoting ODA to subsidize Dutch business investment in poor countries.
Decision makers and politicians have argued that:
- aid is no longer relevant as more development actors have emerged over the past years
- there is less of a need for aid
- other development actors such as the private sector have a critical role in mobilizing much needed development finance
all of the political discussions about aid, a functional, rather than ideological, approach has been missing. Aid is a public policy instrument that donors gave a very simple objective – to promote economic development and social welfare. Rarely do politicians base their decisions on the role aid can and should play on its core function and concessional nature.
Great gains, more needs to happen
Over the past 15 years the world has seen an unprecedented decline in poverty. The number of people living on $1.48 (USD) a day has been halved. A number of formerly least developing countries have ‘graduated’ to the middle of lower middle income countries. Thanks to aid, more kids go to primary school and more children live beyond the age of 5. Aid was not the driver of the development process as such, but it was an important tool that could be used by developing countries and citizens alike to tackle the challenges they faced. The fact that aid finance is public and concessional has been an asset in this regard.
Almost exactly one year ago, world leaders adopted an ambitious and visionary agenda for a sustainable world without poverty, hunger and inequality: Agenda 2030 and the Sustainable Development Goals.
They even went beyond agreeing 17 new goals and promised in Agenda 2030 to “leave no one behind” in meeting the SDGs and to “[reach] the furthest behind, first”. Given its unique features, ODA plays a central role to the achievement of the SDGS.
Today, Oxfam published ‘Accountability and Ownership: The role of aid in a post-2015 world‘. This report aims to take a functional approach to aid and its role in a post-2015 world. I hope very much that this paper makes a contribution to focusing the political discussion on the role aid plays versus other flows and how we can make the best use of the unique features of aid. Such a renewed focus could help increase traction for its use. But not only that, taking a functional approach to guide decision making on aid could also help politicians take better decisions towards increasing the effectiveness of aid. In a post-2015 world we also need aid to be much more effective if we want to realize the SDGs.
Everyone has the right to live free from poverty, deprivation and the multiple intersecting crises, like climate change and inequality, which affect us all. As politicians and decision makers grapple with finding appropriate responses to contemporary global challenges, taking a functional approach towards development aid, could prove useful.