Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD-DAC)

Michael Roeskau, Director DAC Secretariat: Better Aid for Fragile States - (DAC News April-May 2005)


If we want to target developing countries where we can get the highest returns, we should disregard countries whose performances are unsatisfactory, or where the political will to reduce poverty is absent. But then we risk creating ‘donor darlings’ and more importantly ‘donor orphans’. So what’s the answer? Ministers and agency heads at March’s High Level Ministerial meeting in Paris picked up on the mandate established by officials in London earlier in the year by agreeing to pilot draft Principles for Good Engagement in Fragile States. I am pleased to announce that the following countries agreed to pilot the Principals with their partner countries:

  • Australia and New Zealand: in Solomon Islands
  • Belgium: in the Democratic Republic of Congo
  • Canada: in Haiti
  • Norway: in Sudan
  • Portugal: in Guinea Bissau
  • UK: in Nepal and Somalia (in collaboration with the World Bank)

While the Principles are still in draft form, having pilots in the field will give us a practical indication of how user-friendly they are.

Doing aid better  - and fragile states cannot be left out of this agenda - is one of the key goals being examined this year, along with increasing aid budgets, market access for products from the poorest countries, debt relief and so on.

The first Principal is perhaps the most important; our long term goal must be the return or the creation of a vibrant civil society and healthy state structures. So any activity carried out in a fragile state in the meantime must be ‘future-proof’ and follow state structures and processes as much as possible.

It is a fact that in the short term if the capacity  - or in some cases the political will – is not there, donors will need to look at alternative ways to engage. The Principals offer guidelines on ‘partial alignment’ or ‘shadow alignment’ – activities which ‘shadow’ state structures. Donors are encouraged to consult with a range of alternative national stakeholders like regional authorities or NGOs committed to poverty reduction. In this way, programs comply as far as possible with government procedures and systems, even if operating in areas beyond the government’s jurisdiction.

The truth is we cannot afford to ignore some of the most unstable and conflict torn countries in our world if we are to prevent catastrophes like Darfur. Some of the statistics around fragile states are alarming:

  • A third of people living in poverty around the world live in fragile states.
  • Two-thirds of the economic damage done by a fragile state are costs imposed on its neighbour
  • Having a fragile state as a neighbour reduces Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 1.6 percent per annum
  • 75 percent of fragile states are affected by conflict and are a major source of refugee movements, drugs transit and in some cases have been used as bases for terrorist activity.

The most progressive element of these draft Principles so far, is that they move us from a reactive mode to prevention. Action today to prevent state failure can reduce the risk of future outbreaks of conflict.

I am heartened that Minister have agreed to work on draft Principles and grateful to the countries who will carry out pilots in a year when development is in the global spotlight.  There is a danger that if we ignore some of the most challenging fragile states, we will abandon thousands of people living in poverty, and allow these countries to become ‘aid orphans’. That is a risk we are not be prepared to take.