Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

2001-2007: From Horror to Hope


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:

  • We have learned that development progress is intricately linked to good governance in both government and the private sector. Only where there is good governance can injections of aid be effective.  The political will to improve governance is the touchstone for developing countries’ primary responsibility for their development. The adoption of NEPAD by all African countries in July 2001 and the readiness of many to subject themselves to peer reviews of political and economic governance were very promising steps in this respect. Corruption is a pernicious impediment to good governance, and it is rewarding to see that donors are ready now to address this plague explicitly, alongside the stronger efforts to enforce the OECD’s Anti-Corruption Convention in its own member countries.
  • Infrastructure is back again as a focus of donor activity. Over the 1990s, donors had accorded it a lesser priority as compared to basic social services, i.e. direct interventions to improve the life of the poor. But the understanding has grown that, while growth may happen without poverty reduction, sustainable poverty reduction is not possible without economic growth. Hence a renewed readiness to address the basic conditions of growth, including infrastructure. The DAC has contributed to this reassessment through the work of its Network on Poverty Reduction.
  • The nexus between security and development was highlighted by violent conflict in many countries of the developing world. Security is probably the most basic social service that a state can provide to its citizens, and many countries are unable to offer such protection. This is why there is a record number of peace-keeping missions now in place around the world. Through DAC’s work on fragile states and on security system reform, also in its special meetings on Afghanistan and Iraq, donors have acknowledged the need to address the development/security nexus in closer co-operation in the field with the military and diplomatic communities and to surmount a certain distance or even distrust that may have governed their relationship hitherto.

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…