Errant European

The Good News: Donors pledge $3 billion to rebuild Gaza
The Bad News: Better check donors’ record of honouring prior pledges
Last year, I wrote about “dead beat donors” who attended international pledging conferences and then failed to pony up when the bill came due.
That was before the world financial crisis really hit. Do we think that things will improve in the current climate?
Here’s the press release from Oxfam GB of 25 March 2008, on shortfalls of pledges for Afghanistan:

Forty per cent of aid spending returns to rich countries in corporate profits and consultant costs

The prospects for peace in Afghanistan are being undermined because Western countries are failing to deliver on their promises of aid to the tune of $10bn and because aid going to the country is used ineffectively, according to a new report written by ACBAR, an alliance international aid agencies working in Afghanistan.

Read the report – Falling short: Aid effectiveness in Afghanistan

The international community has pledged $25bn to Afghanistan since 2001 but has only delivered $15bn. The US is the biggest donor to Afghanistan but also has one of the biggest shortfalls – according to the Afghan government between 2002 and 2008 the US only delivered half of its $10.4bn commitment.

The March 2008 Oxfam/ACBAR report gave us a precisely focused look at a phenomenon that I have long suspected: just like TV viewers who are caught up in the enthusiasm of a telethon and pledge $50 to a worthy cause, but then renege on their promises when the donation envelope arrives, I have often wondered who keeps track of all those billions announced at summits, colloquiums, concerts, etc. In the case of Afghanistan last year, we had our answer.
Former USAID Director Andrew Natsios commented on the Oxfam/ACBAR report, explaining that much of the gap is due to Afghanistan’s limited absorptive capacity, which is admittedly a problem. Natsios also rightly points out that aid workers have been targeted by the Taliban, inhibiting operations. Also true. But both have been a problem dating back to 2001, when the US-led international effort started in Afghanistan. Time to come up with new excuses?

If distributing aid while dealing with the Taliban is a handy excuse, how about Gaza, where Al Jazeera correspondent Todd Baer asks “How the pledges are going to reach Gaza is the big question here, if all the [donations] go to the PA in the West Bank and none to Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.”

So while there may be particular excuses in the Afghanistan and Gaza situations, surely the billions pledged at the annual G8 summits (check the list going back to 1975 thanks to the University of Toronto’s “G8 Information Centre”) don’t all falter because “the Taliban and/or Hamas ate my homework.” It’s worth paging through this list and clicking randomly on the venue of choice (“Tokyo III” in 1993, “Gleneagles” Scotland in 2005) and checking the archived speeches and communiques. Reacquaint yourself with the grandiose initiatives relegated to the political graveyard, along with their late authors.

“If I had a penny for every…” If the cause of international development had received an actual dollar for every dollar pledged in all the summits since 1975, I daresay that many problems would long ago have been solved. But then how could our leaders justify their annual “retreats” if all the problems were settled?

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