Aid should not come at all costs

This week in Busan, South Korea, decisions will be made that have an impact on millions of people’s lives. Guest blogger Timo Lappalainen of KEPA, a Finnish international development organization, explains why now is not the time for concessions on aid effectiveness.

At the Fourth OECD High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness, donors and developing countries work out the principles and commitments needed to eliminate poverty. As if that was not tough enough, the global financial crisis, natural disasters, increasing poverty and conflicts as well as the need to get China to step aboard shake up the negotiations.

For the first time, civil society organizations take part in the High Level Forum as equal negotiating parties. The BetterAid network unites more than 1.000 development organizations from civil society to work on development effectiveness. BetterAid has been challenging the aid effectiveness agenda since January 2007 and is leading many of the civil society activities in the lead up to the Forum.

At first sight, one could assume that Busan is simply about continuing discussions on the quality of aid and agreeing on the follow-up of the principles and action plan mapped out in Paris and Accra. Wrong. The Forum delves deep into the development paradigm: what is meant by development and how can it be made sustainable?

Belief in the virtuous nature of economic growth is practically unwavering, but there is little talk of how to divide its fruits in a fair way so that growth benefits above all those living in extreme poverty. Traditional donors are clearly –- and in part, justly -– nervous about rising economic powers such as China and India bustling about in Africa without a set of common rules to constrain them. It is not worthwhile for the EU to try and guarantee food security in a developing country by supporting the agricultural sector if at the same time China leases millions of hectares of land for its own purposes. Development efforts require coordination and coherence.

The values seen as crucial to development cooperation and foreign and security policy in general -– human rights and even democracy –- are under threat. Reluctant to negotiate, China has got many traditional donors on their knees. Statements from representatives of European states indicate that getting China on board overrides nearly everything else. It is hardly surprising that human rights, transparency and accountability issues are the main problems to tackle when drafting the Busan Outcome Document.

The core importance of the High Level Forum lies in the fact that it will determine positions and discussions for the next four years before the UN Millennium Program (link: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/) concludes in 2015. Will we succeed in reconciling the conflicting interests of the different centers of power so that the international community is united in the fight to remove poverty and inequality?

While the deadline for the UN Millennium Development Goals, year 2015, draws closer, inequality and poverty are growing –- despite sustained economic growth over several years. The situation calls for political will and courage to commit to common values and actions that bring about lasting changes in the lives of the poorest people. It is important to get China on board, but we should not sacrifice our values. One of the four key asks of CSOs is to strengthen development effectiveness through practices based on human rights standards.

The Busan Outcome Document should reflect the values of its signatory states. Now is not the time for concessions.