Fragile states speak up on aid spending
The g7+ group of the poorest nations wants aid focused on addressing conflict and security. Could this be the year donors start to listen?
Children in the Timor-Leste capital, Dili, wash a UN vehicle outside a cafe frequented by aid workers. Photograph: Joel Rubin/AP
About a year ago, officials from seven fragile states met out of donor earshot to compare notes and air their grievances about how billions of dollars of donor money has been spent on peacebuilding and statebuilding over the years.
Dili, Timor-Leste's capital, was the perfect place to host the first meeting of the g7+ of fragile states – Timor-Leste, Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Ivory Coast and others. If there's one country that knows about the shortcomings of international aid, its Timor-Leste. More than $8.8bn of aid has been poured into the country, only about a tenth of which has entered the local economy.
Initially heavily aid-dependant after being freed from Indonesian rule in 1999, the half-island nation had much of its infrastructure destroyed by the departing Indonesian military and its militia allies, severely damaging key sectors like health. A slew of aid organisations then set up shop but failed to co-ordinate with local officials exactly what was needed to rebuild the nation.
It's with this in mind that Timor-Leste's outspoken finance minister, Emilia Pires, has been leading a crew of fragile states, – there are 17 involved now – with a clear message that progress towards the millennium development goals can only be maintained with greater focus on addressing conflict and fragility. Part of the problem until now has been that the MDGs don't address security, which alienates a large portion of the aid-receiving world.
Aid has always been donor driven, and while organisations have been talking on behalf of fragile states, the states themselves have barely had a voice. They have seen their nationalist and developmental aspirations overshadowed by unequal power relations, leaving governments preoccupied with making themselves accountable to aid donors.
Since the inaugural gathering in April last year, the g7+ have been meeting on the sidelines of key arenas, such as the MDG review summit last September. And, as their confidence has grown, their voices have started to have an impact.
Bodies like the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) have said that while the international system is slow to move, major players – the UN, the World Bank, the IMF – are finally starting to listen to what the g7+ has to say. Large multilateral organisations have touched base with the group to provide input for aid reviews and begin a dialogue about how donor countries can better support fragile states.
The Timor-Leste prime minster, Xanana Gusmão, has just returned home after stops in Washington, New York and London, where he stressed the importance of the g7+ to government departments, including the UK's Department for International Development (DfID), which has a focus on supporting fragile states. With a year of consolidation under its belt, the group has the attention of major organisations, which now see they have to give fragile states a platform.
This is all leading up to the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in December, when major decisions on how aid is spent will be made.
Aid to the world's fragile states has failed. Could 2011 be a turning point for many of the world's poorest nations?source: www.guardian.co.uk