The ONE baby campaign!

One of the many babies - who will you choose?

With less than a week until the Millennium development Goals UN Summit in New York lots of things seem to be happening to raise the profile of this event.  While continued international support for the Goals is likely to be reconfirmed, many of the goals are still off-track and indeed more work could be done to really push through some more ambitious targets.  We need to push these targets and one way to do this is which is really entertaining is through ONE’s Baby Campaign!  This internet viral message is pretty clear and entertaining with talking baby heads and a clear message it will likely generate some internet buzz as babies get sent around threatening to ‘Throw the bottle out of the Pram’ or ‘Put us on the naughty step’ unless we show some support.  Check it out at

http://www.one.org/international/actnow/babyprotest/

and let others know so we can do something to fight extreme poverty and save babies from being born with a death sentence.

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Show me the money! No literally–show me what you’re doing with the money

Could requiring Aid Effectiveness have serious implications for helping the most vulnerable?

The current economic climate has many people counting the pennies and trying to get the best value for money.  The same is true with governments providing development assistance.  They want to know that the money they are providing is being used effectively and getting the best value for money.  The UK Government Department responsible for distributing foreign aid assistance, DFID, recently announced plans to assess the Aid Effectiveness of all their aid.

In theory trying to measure Aid Effectiveness is a good idea

This assessment of Aid Effectiveness makes sense.  For a start government funding is originally Tax Payers’ money and therefore the Government has a responsibility to make sure that it is used effectively.  Secondly by requiring the assessment of how the funding is spent there is decreased risk that the funding doesn’t end up in the back pockets of dodgy officials or dictators.  Lastly it also requires recipient countries to develop effective systems to hold, handle and distribute large quantities of money effectively.  The institutional capacity needed to do this is important for any developing country government to establish as it will enable them handle and use their own funding better thus making them more effective governments.

So in theory asking recipients to do monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of their finance to inform donors on Aid Effectiveness is a very good idea.  The problem just comes in the implementation of such systems…

In theory donors give development assistance to the most vulnerable.  Donors provide this funding as they want to better the lives of those groups living in extreme poverty and desperation.  However by the very nature of being one of the most vulnerable and poor it is extremely unlikely that these groups will have systems developed to effectively record funding flows.  What’s worse is the government officials who receive the donor funds are unlikely to be much richer than the vulnerable group they are receiving the funds on behalf of.  This greatly increases the likelihood that they will siphon off the money for themselves.  This would be expected, some World Bank officials unofficially call this ‘greasing the wheels’ to get things moving, and is just part of what happens with funding that is targeted at the most vulnerable.

However if Aid Effectiveness, and so strict requirements for MRV, become mandatory for development assistance places such as those referred to in the last paragraph will not be funded.  Aid effectiveness will drive funding away from helping the most vulnerable to helping those who already have strong government capacity.  While this is good for those who are slightly more developed it will create a system where those at the bottom (the least developed and most vulnerable) remain at the bottom as they can’t prove aid effectiveness.  Meanwhile an increasing gap grows between them and other aid recipients thus trapping those most vulnerable in extreme poverty because helping them is less effective than helping others a bit more developed.

There is also a risk that Aid Effectiveness drives donors to push for specific projects to be built which have easy indicators that can be measured.  This could be asking for a certain number of doctors or certain length road and is very different to trying to generate increased understanding of environmental issues or better conditions for business investment.  While indicators allow easier measurements of effectiveness it pushes projects to be a certain type which may not be what is most needed.  Cross policy programmatic support is harder to measure effectiveness of but is often very important and needed most, drives for measuring Aid Effectiveness would not fund this.

These are risks with basing aid assistance policies solely around Aid Effectiveness ideas.  To avoid these sorts of risks there is an immediate need to develop the capacity of governments of the most vulnerable to effectively handle finance.  This can’t be done by just throwing money but rather by creating partnerships with recipient countries to help develop the tools and skills needed.  Some recipient countries may not like such partnerships but there are necessary.

Other options to ensure effectiveness of finance include making information on how much funding is being provided, and where it is suppost to go, available (not so much to the donor public but rather- ) to the recipient country’s public.  This empowers the recipient public to hold their governments to account and to ensure that what is needed is provided.  Examples of how this can be done is putting posters up saying how many new teachers should be expected, or, how many hospitals should be built, or, when they should expect a new road built by.  This people empowerment works best in democratic countries but in those areas were this isn’t possible again partnerships should be resorted to.

Overall while the current drive for increased Aid Effectiveness looks good there are some potential downsides that should be addressed.  Governments and the public should be aware of these potential problems to ensure the most vulnerable are still helped.

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People don’t want to live on handouts…. but sometimes it’s a bit risky not to!

Can insurance play a role in avoiding Aid Dependency in agricultural situations?

The UK government has recently announced a crackdown on benefits fraudsters.  Those people who are living off State funded benefits rather than trying to earn a legitimate income can expect their State provided income to disappear.  The government notes these people have found it suitably comfortable, and easier, to live off the benefits rather than secure an official job.  This situation drains money from the State’s purse and isn’t deemed tolerable when countries are suffering from economic crises.

This problem is similar to a situation that can exist in humanitarian aid.  In this situation, the finance regularly provided to an impoverished group leads them to become reliant on the benefits.  Instead of using the money to better their livelihoods through long-term investments in infrastructure (and other similar benefits) the finance is used to pay for short-term wants such as luxury goods.  This doesn’t happen everywhere, in the same way that not everyone on State benefits is committing benefit fraud, but it can be a problem.

To discourage this dependency, aid assistance often comes as physical products, e.g.  bricks and seeds.  This encourages people to use the material to build and invest.  However if it is expected that within a few months a flood will wash away the newly built house (or freshly sowed field) then the incentive to use the material for its intended purpose is lost.  The recipients’ developmental investment was a waste of time and effort.  Consequently the recipients would rather sell the material and use the profits to buy current ‘wants’.  In effect these groups are deciding not to invest in their future because of the risk of the investment failing.

Maize crop in Swaziland stunted by drought. Source: Neil Cooper/Still Pictures

A case study example of this occurred in Swaziland.  Five years of consistent drought generated a system where by the fourth year communities were relying on consistent aid assistance to survive.  As well as providing immediate food assistance, the humanitarian aid provided drought-tolerant seeds for the community to plant and invest in the future.  The problem is even drought tolerant seeds need some rain to grow and the seeds were not getting enough.  By the third year of no rain officials noted some recipients couldn’t see the benefit of planting the seeds as they would fail, it was simply better to sell them.

When the risk of failure (or damage) is too high, recipients are less likely to use aid assistance for its intended purpose.   This generates a situation of humanitarian aid dependence.  To avoid this there is a need to guarantee recipients that they will still received some income even if the development investment fails.  Insurance can do this.

Insurance reduces the perceived risk and so encourages communities to use the aid as intended.  The problem is insurance costs money and insurers want to turn a profit.  There are two issues with this:

1) Recipients, by the very nature of needing assistance, don’t have the finance to pay for insurance so aid providers must pay.

2) The frequency of failure has to be low enough that insurers still perceive that can make a profit when crop failures (or equivalent situation) do happen. i.e. they don’t want to pay out every year.  

However in places like Swaziland, where droughts can last over five years, insurers are unlikely to perceive the risk as low enough that they’ll insure investments.  Insurers just won’t get the returns the need.  So while insurance could be an answer, in high risk regions it seems development is simply unsustainable.  Where this is the case you can expect either aid dependence or large-scale migration.  How we cope with the challenges this dependency and migration brings is unclear but if insurance isn’t a solution then we need to think about how to tackle these challenges now.

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Adaptation 101 – (Lesson 2)

What does the concept of an adaptation continuum mean for adaptation finance?

In the second of a two-part blog to give you an overview of the adaptation finance theory we will look at the international theory behind what is, or rather should be, eligible for adaptation finance.  In the last blog we established that adaptation can be a range of projects or programmes some of which are exactly the same as traditional development and some which are not directly relevant to human development at all (see the adaptation continuum).  However it is established that (for the most vulnerable to climate change) the projects that will decrease their vulnerability the most are typically developmental projects and programmes.

So if development is what is needed to reduce vulnerability, and so adapt, why not just call development finance adaptation finance and simply use the existing development money?  Well two main reasons exist:  Firstly there is not enough development finance currently available to cope with existing needs and climate change is going to make development harder, more expensive and may even reverse developmental gains.  As such there is a need to have more adaptation finance on top of current development finance.  Secondly if ‘adaptation’ finance was just called ‘development’ finance it risks countries not providing the ‘new and additional’ money which is what is required.  For adaptation finance is compensatory finance, unlike development assistance (which is more similar to a form of charity)This adaptation compensatory finance is to pay for the damage done and assist developing countries adapt to the changes the developed world have/are inducing in the climate.  This argument is based around the moralistic climate change debates but is strongly believed by many developed and developing nations.

However currently at the international level no-one has clearly defined what ‘adaptation finance’ is, where it is sourced from, how additional it is to current development aid, or, what it can be used to fund.  As such this lack of clarity is allowing people and countries to claim they are doing adaptation, or are eligible for new funds when they may not be.  All of this is confusing the issue and there is a need for a clear defined definition, but this is not easily practical… 

The UNFCCC definition (Art 4.3 +4.4) tried to define adaptation as just dealing with the new and additional impact that groups are vulnerable to.  However as established in the last blog; often the vulnerability is derived from adaptive capacity factors  which are proxies for community development.  And it would be more effective to spend the money reducing these ‘developmental’ vulnerabilities in a lot of cases (especially where there is uncertainty in the science of the impacts).  The UNFCCC definition, if followed through, also risks money being shifted from development to specific climate change impacts leaving a void in current development funding which may cause more harm than good.

For these reason it is good not to delineate adaptation from development and it took a number of years at the international debating level to accept this.  However with this understanding of the adaptation continuum recently established the next issue with adaptation finance must be addressed and this is what is happening now at the international level: Countries appreciate adaptation can look like development but they can’t agree on how to fund it to ensure that the additionality of funds to pay for adaptation is guaranteed.

If the funds are sourced separately to development how does it then transpose to what is on the ground without adding too much bureaucracy to the proceeding? Or if the funds go through traditional development channels (which is easier) how do we ensure the ‘new and additional’ criteria? 

A strong element of distrust exists at the international negotiating level which means developing countries are unlikely to accept the second option which doesn’t ensure the additionality.  To overcome this there is need to develop a robust and standardised verification technique to ensure that developed countries really do commit the ‘new and additional’ finance they promised.  When this tool or technique is available then, and perhaps only then, will the debate about adaptation finance at the international level be able to move forward and allow sufficient amounts of finance to become available to fund adaptation.

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Adaptation 101 – (Lesson 1)

Is adaptation different from development?

“The problem is people don’t understand the difference between development and adaptation”

I heard this statement twice in the last week from people working in the environmental arena.  The reply to this comment is a simple question – ‘Sorry, what is the difference between adaptation and development then?’ 

However the REACTION to the original statement can be one of two things:

a)      Interest, wonder and a want to be educated further

b)      Confusion, horror and worry that someone who works in this arena believes adaptation and development can be perceived as completely separate things.

I provided reaction ‘b’ on both occasions (much to some misinformed colleague’s horror), and in doing so realised that many people working in the development and adaptation debate are confusing separate parts of the discourse.  Because (and I’ll explain this later) development can be adaptation to climate change, but not a lot of people seem to understand this!  Therefore I felt it was time to try and clarify some issues over adaptation.  So blog readers settle down for Adaptation 101 – the first class is about to begin….

Climate change will alter the climate in many regions creating shocks and stresses on human and ecological systems.  A shock may be a flash flood, a stress may be slowly decreasing rainfall.  The ability of human systems to cope with these shocks and stresses, or hazards-as they are known, can affect the hazard’s impact.  The more vulnerable you are the less able you are to cope.  Another way of putting this is that the human or ecological system is less resilient at absorbing the impacts of these hazards without harm occurring.  The more resilient you are the less vulnerable you are. 

Okay take a break I know that sounded like quite a lot but basically thus far we have established:

Impact = Hazard x Vulnerability

Now in its simplest terms, adapting to climate change is behaving in such a way as to decrease the impact of climate change effects.  E.g. If sea level is going to rise 30cm we could build a sea wall 30cm higher so there is no impact (such as flooding) experienced from the higher sea level.  In our example here the hazard is still present but by building the sea wall we have reduced the vulnerability to the hazard and therefore reduced the impact of the hazard.

This essentially is what adaptation is about; reducing vulnerability to climate change hazards so the impacts are less.  In adaptation we cannot reduce the Hazard part of the equation as this is mitigation.  Only by decreasing the amount of Green House Gases we produce can we reduce the future scale of hazards.  Mitigation is about doing this.

So we have now established that adaptation is about reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts.

However things now get a bit more complex, because what makes people vulnerable?  In our earlier example of the sea wall, the community were not only vulnerable to the physical impact of the rising sea level, but they would also have been vulnerable if they were unable to raise the money to pay for the sea wall.  The vulnerability is made up not just from the climate change impact but also from the ability to raise funds to pay for the needed response measure.

Take another example: a rural farming community where the decreased rainfall impacts of climate change are likely to reduce the yield of their crops.  The vulnerability to this reducing yield could be decreased by providing them with drought resistant seeds, on the other hand vulnerability could be reduced by educating the farmers about water-conserving tillage techniques, or alternatively by building a road link to the village so that the farmers obtain access to traders to buy replacement food for their decrease in crops.  All three things reduce vulnerability to the impacts and so can be considered a form of adaptation to climate change.  However the education and infrastructure responses would traditionally be considered development.

Vulnerability to climate change is a multifaceted function derived not just from the physical vulnerability to climate change but also from education, socio-economic and developmental state of communities.  Development which increases a population’s wealth so they can pay for technical climate response measures or replacement crops,  educating a community about climate change impacts so they can plan for the future better or even teaching a girl how to swim so she will not drown in a flash flood, ALL DECRASE VULNERABILITY TO CLIMATE CHANGE.  And so adaptation, which reduces vulnerability, can be a number of things.  Much of which is traditional development as this still reduces people’s vulnerability to future hazards.

McGray et al. (2006) summaries this in the WRI report Weathering the Storm (and if you would like more information do read it).  Here they presented the adaptation continuum.  A continuum of approaches which can be considered adaptation for the aforementioned reasons, as shown in the diagram.

The adaptation continuum overview - From Klein & Persson (2008)

This blog has hopefully helped you understand what adaptation projects and programmes actually are. Yet, what it has failed to do is explain why there is still so much confusion at the international negotiation level between development and adaptation.  Much of this confusion is to do with funding and it should be explained.  As such the next blog will be on this topic.  So come back next week for Adaptation 101 – Lesson 2 – What is the Implication of an Adaptation Continuum for Adaptation Funding?

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Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand

Is teaching a requirement for good development assistance?

Last week José Ramos-Horta, the president of Timor-Leste, visited the Australian president.  Amongst other things the topic of the Australian aid to Timor-Leste was assumed to be a major point of discussion.  Like many low GDP countries, Timor-Leste relies on donor countries for large amounts of financial assistance and development aid.  However AUSAid is said to have been reducing this in recent years, which is a problem as Timor-Leste has become almost dependant on this income.  It seems without Australian support Timor-Leste can no-longer run its development projects and programmes as it has. 

This situation was not intended to happen but it has and the reason for it is partly due to a lack of knowledge transfer.  It’s claimed that José Ramos-Horta criticised AUSAid for using too many foreign consultants and industries in the provision of its aid assistance.  In effect this means aid finance has actually gone towards paying for Australian, and other developed country citizens’, jobs rather than local jobs.  And this is the problem: by not using the East Timorese in the development of programmes the knowledge and skills to needed to run and design such programmes has not been established in the local population.  Without this local knowledge being present these countries struggle to establish their own projects and programmes successfully.

This is a gross oversimplification of the situation, but it still rings true as a concern with development assistance.  Much of Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) is used to fund the employment of developed country citizens.  This can either be as consultants, workers or providers of materials for development projects.  One example of this is the (ODA labelled) agricultural research assistance from France: much of this is used to fund French research institutes rather than developing country ones.  Naturally knowledge from these French institutes is then used to help plan better agricultural development in developing countries, but only when the knowledge is passed on.  It seems developing countries have not been provided with the resources to do develop this knowledge themselves and so are still reliant on developed countries’ knowledge and assistance.

Logically, of course there is a need to employ those people with the knowledge and resources in order to provide the most effective assistance to developing groups.  But often these people are from developed regions and are developed country citizens who have had access to better educational opportunities.   The employment of these people does not help the local population’s knowledge or economy grow.  ODA projects and programmes need to make sure that knowledge is passed on so that the continued employment of developed country citizens is not required. 

School days aren't the only time where learning is required

However this knowledge transfer isn’t easy.  There are a number of problems: you need to provide a teaching component to the project and this adds increased costs and time, you need to find suitable candidates to educate (preferably ones keen to learn), and then you need to ensure when taught these candidates have access to the resources that developed groups do (such as recent academic thinking, or climate science data, etc).  Then, even if all this is possible, there is often nothing stopping those educated to move on to other areas where they will be better paid for their newfound knowledge.  Indeed this is a problem the World Bank has often found:  It seems, unless the knowledge is linked to a physical infrastructure component or a knowledge sharing scheme is put in place, those educated people will move on from the region and the knowledge transfer is lost in a few years after the World Bank leave.

This is a complex issue but not impossible to tackle.  Too often donors have only been providing and not teaching and this needs to change.  There is a brilliant proverb that Oxfam ran as a slogan a few years back which summarizes the situation –

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

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And the answer is….

What’s the Problem?

The current BP oil spill is one of the largest ever human induced or even natural environmental disasters.  It is now predicted to be the equivalent of the Exxon Mobile disaster (in terms of oil released) every four days, and it is unlikely to be stemmed until August at the earliest.  The spill’s effects will be long lasting and catastrophic not just for the environment, but people’s livelihoods and the economy.  This is by no means a trivial disaster but unfortunately it is just one in a list of major environmental and human disasters that is currently taking place throughout the world.

Lord Nick Stern talked last Wednesday at Imperial College London and he opened his talk by listing some of these global challenges. Problem was; it took him two minutes to list these challenges. There is overpopulation, ‘peak oil’ approaching, economic recession, heavy deficit cuts, a widening rich/poor divide, rising fuel prices, high food prices, climate change and a lack of natural resources to name but a few.  It can be very gloomy to think about.  Even more so when you think about how few answers there are to these problems.

If you worry about each one of these challenges individually it is quite depressing and makes it seem like there is no hope.  And shouting about these problems doesn’t help much either.  Gwyn Prins co-writer of the Hartwell paper talked about this a few weeks ago at a talk at the Camden Green Fair.  He claimed that the assault on the general public in the last few years which told people how bad their lifestyles are without providing easy solutions has turned people against the climate change cause. 

If we continually force these problems onto the public without any solutions people will not appreciate it.  Indeed the solutions that have been presented, such as renewable technology and not flying for example, are impractical and even impossible for many people whose established lifestyles require a certain amount of travelling.  Imagine trying to tell the UK Prime Minister he could only produce two tonnes of CO2 this year.  Impossible!!  Lives can’t change overnight.  The world isn’t designed to work in such a way.

So what do we do?  Carry on regardless?  Ignorance is bliss, so they say.  Gwyn Prins implies that in this world of problems we should just do what makes us, as a whole society, happy and eventually we’ll solve the trouble…  Well perhaps, but the dilemma is that we know that these problems do exist.  While we might like to forget about them and pretend they don’t exist, unfortunately they do.  Can we, as a society, be happy with ourselves knowing that our acts are exacerbating these global hazards?  I think not.  We must do what we can to change, however in many areas the problem is we don’t have many practical alternatives than to carry on as usual.

An example 'systems thinking' diagram from systems-thinking.org

Solutions are what we need but they don’t appear from thin air.  To get them we need to understand the problems and as we start to do this we see the problems are part of an interrelated system.   For example: rising food prices are linked to rising production costs, rising production costs are linked to rising fuel prices, rising fuel prices are linked to competition for reduced sources of cheap fossil fuel, reduced sources of fuel are linked to drilling oil in dangerous locations, drilling in dangerous locations leads to higher risks of accidents and this leads to potential oils spills and so it continues.  These problems are all interrelated which partly explains why it is so hard to quickly produce practical alternatives as all solutions are dependent upon other parts of the connected chains.  This makes these problems complex but also provides many points at which to target solutions.  What’s more, solutions targeted at these ‘pinch points’ may provide multiple benefits due to the interrelate nature of the problems. 

A ‘Systems Thinking’ approach to these problems (as just described) allows us to see many potential points to target solutions.  It’s time we stop talking about what’s wrong and start to think about the interrelated nature of these problem and novel solutions.  Because without these solutions we can’t be surprised when next time we talk about climate change people tell us to take a hike….  and that’s not meant as a nice recommendation to see the countryside.

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