By Michel Roeskau
Shortly after I arrived at OECD’s Development Co-operation Directorate, the world was shaken by “nine eleven”, the horrible terrorist attacks on US targets. Terrorism is not an exclusivity of poor countries. But most of its current perpetrators try to shape it as a clash of civilisations, in other words, as a global struggle between the developed and the developing parts of the world.
From horror to hope: The last five or six years were a time, and it continues, when governments and people in rich countries devoted more attention, and more money, to development than they did before. The public generosity following the Asian tsunami in December 2004 was evidence that globalisation is not only a market phenomenon. Aid came out of the trough of the 1990s. Between 2000 and 2005, it grew from $ 51 to 107 billion. The EU countries, the Gleneagles and the UN Summits of 2005 promised much more by 2010, which will require new budget resources financed by taxpayers.
This fundamental shift in the trends and prospects for aid was greeted with satisfaction, if not exhilaration. It also increased the challenges facing the development community, which must prove its ability to turn money into results. The sprawling growth of the “aid industry” itself may stand in the way of its success. There is a continuous flurry of new initiatives, discussed at countless international conferences every day, and new players are emerging, new donors, global programmes, philanthropic foundations, NGOs.
Aid co-ordination has become an obvious challenge and the test is at the country level. That is why the 2005 Paris Declaration on Aid Effectiveness, with its pledge for donor harmonisation and alignment around country-led strategies and priorities, was the most momentous message of the development community in recent years. It has set in motion a process of mutual motivation and monitoring that has the potential to change behaviour in the field.
It has also meant that the DAC, which is at the heart of the international partnership under the Paris Declaration, has gone beyond its traditional role of policy formulation at the highest aggregate level, to reach out to the field. Rooting the DAC’s work more deeply in the needs and experiences of the field and in factual knowledge about it is the best way to ensure its future relevance. Our communications work is also inspired by this concern.
Among the topical issues that came to the fore in recent years, I would attach particular importance to the following three:
With all these improvements in the way donors do business, has life improved in developing countries over the last half-decade? While some of the poorest countries remain trapped in poverty, the impact of the success of very large developing economies like China and India on the average numbers is predominant, reflecting the fact that hundreds of millions of people have emerged from poverty. An additional encouraging sign is the higher average growth rates in Africa, now ranging around 5 per cent per year. With lower average growth rates in the developed world, the gap is closing gradually. But the “perceived” speed of development is lower than the real progress and impatience may stand in the way of hope…