By Garth Luke, Senior Researcher, World Vision Australia
It’s great to see the debate on the Aid Review and the future of Australia’s overseas aid program and The Lowy Institute’s focus on this important area. It is also encouraging to see the considerable improvements that have been made to AusAID’s program in recent years.
For many of us who have worked for years to make a better and bigger aid program, the commitment to lift aid to 0.5% of national income offers great hope to help build a better world. The extra $4 billion dollars each year may be a relatively small amount in a global economy of $60 trillion, but if applied well it can make a very positive difference to tens of millions of people’s lives each year.
However, there are considerable risks that we won’t make maximum use of these additional funds. Given the history of the Australian aid program I think there are big dangers that:
Much of the extra money will not reach the poor, but will go to Western firms, consultants and well paid Australian military, police and academic employees;
Given these risks, World Vision has proposed in our final submission to the Aid Review five critical steps to maximise the benefits of Australia’s increased investment:
1. Increase openness and transparency of the aid program
Allow Australian civil society a real-time picture (as some other donors do) of where and how money is allocated in order to open up the program to greater constestability. The data is there it just needs to be made available. Also allow developing country civil society and target communities to be much more involved in the planning, implementation and evaluation of Australia’s aid programs to ensure that our efforts are well informed by local knowledge and really do focus on the greatest priorities of poor people.
2. Make access to essential services the foundation of the Australian aid program
The MDGs focus on the essentials and so should the Australian aid program. The Government has driven a much stronger focus on the MDGs in recent years and there has been a welcome increase in funding for the essential services of basic education, health, food and sanitation. This strategy needs to be extended further as the needs are still great (for example 8 million child deaths each year) and our contribution is still too small.
In contrast to interventions that seek to increase economic growth, aid has been proven to be effective at helping to provide essential services for the poor – better food and nutrition (MDG1), improved education (MDG 2), improved health and hygiene (MDGs 4,5,6,7). Measures of these successes include significantly decreased maternal and child deaths, millions more children in school, cuts in new HIV infections and AIDS and decreased malaria deaths. In each of these areas the major constraint is not lack of knowledge but lack of money. The additional funds available to AusAID could save at least 500,000 lives a year if applied through existing proven strategies that have an average cost of around A$2,300 per life saved.
Assistance to provide essential services is amongst the most reliable and cost-effective of aid interventions and should be the foundation of our aid program covering around half or more of our expenditure. As the UK Government has done, we should be framing our core aid goals in terms of concrete and achievable outcomes such as the number of lives saved, the number of children given access to school, the number of people with toilets.
At least then in 2015 Australia will be able to clearly point to the benefits of the program – something which has not been so easy to date. If we fail to provide these basics, Australians will be rightly asking what is the point of an aid program.
Part 2 of this blog will be published next week.
Image by flickr user dnnya17.