But Isn’t Doing Something Better than Doing Nothing? is a question posed to the author of the same title of an article at the Center for Global Development. I think that aid helps people, communities, and countries in big ways and so of course let’s do something. The more relevant question and concern though is, how can aid be more relevant and effective vis-a-vis desired impacts?
Cohesive action among humanitarian organizations is a foremost concern, as mentioned in an earlier article here. During emergencies and disasters, aid agencies meet each other through established sector networks to report on individual agency’s assessment and progress, and again through lessons learned fora and conferences, with individual agency sharing the lessons it has learned to others. There wasn’t yet a gathering in which the operative word was ‘we’, or ‘our’.
Another concern is targeting. In a World Bank project in the Philippines, KALAHI-CIDSS, which was the subject of the study, Aid Under Fire: Development Projects and Civil Conflict, and cited by the author at CGD, the eligibility criteria targeted the 25 poorest municipalities in program-affiliated provinces. For me, targeting municipalities as the recipient population is problematic, in that, any given municipality isn’t absolutely poor. Municipalities (or, cities even) are home to various economic classes. Baguio City, for example, is classified as a Highly Urbanized City but one still finds within the City poor communities (e.g. migrants, single-parent households, and the like). In targeting the whole municipality, the rich are also the recipients of program funds (and, based on my experience, the ones who take up representative positions in behalf of their village, that, without third-party (e.g. NGO field worker) facilitation, frustrates program objective of giving voice to the poorest of the poor/the most marginalized), the overall effect being that the status quo, that is, inequality between rich and poor, is maintained. The situation is exacerbated when individual agencies, without consulting one another, craft their own targeting criteria relative to their different programs and projects across the national space — if this is plotted spatially, the image, I believe, is one of chaos.
Just take the programs and projects to support national effort to attain MDGs. My observation is that the second biggest constrain to attainment of the Goals, next to LGUs’ lack of leadership, is this absence of collective communication and planning within the aid community. DRR and CCA are going through the same rote. In a given national agency, let’s say, the Department of Education, there would be various aid agencies engaging the Department in their various programs and projects, separately, or if it’s through a consortium, each does their part of the agreement their own way. There are no shared systems developed and maintained such as for instance a common M&E system, a critical element for partnerships to succeed.
This is a serious concern and one ultimately affecting the very communities being served. Aid agencies need to reflect, together, on their current practices — how these practices are in fact consistent with the ideology of the NGO being the alternative institution to existing systems and practices that are not working — and, ultimately, institute some reforms.