1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. Southern Africa
  4. Angola

UK donor policy stokes concern of overpromising

Health workers attend to an infant at a clinic in Sierra Rutile area 250 km from Freetown, capital city of Sierra Leone. February 2008. Due to poor health facilities in Sierra Leone more than 1 in 4 women die during child birth, improving maternal health
(Manoocher Deghati/IRIN)

Aid analysts applaud the “courage” of the UK government’s just-released development policy paper, which detailed plans to allocate at least half of all new bilateral funding to fragile states, but question how the government can do the job well without shrinking other aid commitments.

The UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) White Paper stressed helping fragile and post-conflict states to govern and deliver peace to their citizens by including more support to peace settlements; addressing the causes of conflict and fragility; buttressing security, rule of law and basic services, and; pledging to triple aid for security and justice worldwide by 2014.

Other aid commitments in the 6 July White Paper included education, maternal and newborn health, and a stronger focus on climate change.

“DFID is heading in the right direction,” said Alison Evans director at UK think-tank the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). “But DFID’s desire to extract major savings in operations on the one hand and to support long-term poverty reduction in fragile states on the other is not yet squared away in this White Paper.

“They need to recognize that there are difficult trade-offs here.”

The UK was the world’s third-largest development donor in 2008 after the United States and Germany, committing US$11.4 billion, according to Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. This is expected to increase to $14.6 billion in 2010, the aim being to allocate 0.7 percent of GDP to aid by 2013. Over a third of this will be spent on sub-Saharan Africa – almost three times 2004 levels.

''Fragile states account for one billion people and a third of the world’s poor. We will never eradicate poverty unless we tackle the issues in these countries''

Expensive and long-term

Shoring up fragile states is an expensive long-term project, aid analysts told IRIN, and it is not clear where the additional cash will come from in an era of belt-tightening.

“In the UK, all talk of government spending is currently around cuts and stand-stills. Both [political] parties have said they will increase development spending, but we do not know what is around the corner in the economy or where the new money will come from,” Claire Melamed, head of policy at NGO ActionAid UK, told IRIN.

In post-conflict Sierra Leone, British government support for security sector reform, rehabilitating ex-combatants and shoring up health services began in 2003 and is expected to run until at least 2013, according to Dominic O’Neill, DFID’s Sierra Leone head.

But taking such an in-depth approach in all fragile states can be expensive, said Evans.

“There is the potential for this [prioritizing fragile states] to be a risky, costly undertaking,” added Evans, “But we can’t fault the government’s courage on this one.”

Michael Haig, DFID spokesperson, told IRIN DFID plans to close 10 offices by 2011 in countries that have shown significant improvements due to donor aid, freeing up resources to focus on the most vulnerable.

“Fragile states account for one billion people and a third of the world’s poor. We will never eradicate poverty unless we tackle the issues in these countries,” Haig told IRIN.

Engaging in fragile states is complicated, warned ODI’s Evans. Too often donors create dependency instead of building capacity in weak state institutions, apply heavy-handed rules that can paralyze fragile states, and in worst-case scenarios, do more harm than good.

If donors practiced better division of labour and each focused on limited sectors, they would have a better chance of success, said Evans.

“Engaging in fragile states [requires] heavy doses of humility,” Evans told IRIN. “This White Paper attempts to walk the line between humility and hubris…but [the government] needs to acknowledge that the risks of working in these environments are considerable and need to be carefully managed.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

Share this article
Join the discussion

Hundreds of thousands of readers trust The New Humanitarian each month for quality journalism that contributes to more effective, accountable, and inclusive ways to improve the lives of people affected by crises.

Our award-winning stories inform policymakers and humanitarians, demand accountability and transparency from those meant to help people in need, and provide a platform for conversation and discussion with and among affected and marginalised people.

We’re able to continue doing this thanks to the support of our donors and readers like you who believe in the power of independent journalism. These contributions help keep our journalism free and accessible to all.

Show your support as we build the future of news media by becoming a member of The New Humanitarian. 

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.