Brooks Keene, policy adviser for CARE’s Water Team, makes the argument that foreign aid should benefit the poor first and foremost.
In 2005, Congress passed the overwhelmingly bipartisan Water for the Poor Act, sending a strong signal to the Administration that both parties believe that water and sanitation for the poor is a strategic priority for US foreign policy. The Administration was to come back with a strategy within 180 days.
In the absence of a strategy, USAID has gone ahead with water, sanitation and hygiene programs, but much of the effort and dollars have not gone to benefit the poor. Only 33 percent of USAID funding for water, sanitation and hygiene in fiscal year 2010 went to low income countries based on the most recent State Department report to Congress. International organizations and advocates would like to see that figure closer to 70 percent.
SEE ALSO: Water, sanitation and bipartisanship
Why doesn’t the money go to the poor? It’s a complex question, but at its heart is likely the tension between aid for geostrategic priorities and aid for the benefit of those in need. In this case, Congress was clear. The law states that priority countries should be those in which the need is greatest and where assistance will have the most impact.
In September 2010, the Government Accountability Office did an analysis of how aid for water, sanitation and hygiene was being targeted and found that the choice of high priority countries was “not linked to verifiable analysis.” In other words, USAID is likely responding to political and geostrategic priorities rather than need or expected impact. And this problem is only being compounded by the lack of a strategy to spur concerted targeting.
We can hope that the release of a strategy in the near future will resolve some of these issues. In the meantime, to obey the spirit of the law USAID should:
- Base future investments on need and expected impact;
- Make public the analysis for how high priority countries for investment are chosen;
- In broad consultation, complete a wider water strategy that includes drinking water, sanitation and hygiene as key elements and meets the criteria of the Water for the Poor Act.
By taking these steps, USAID can ensure that US investments under the Water for the Poor Act are in fact benefiting the poor.
Note: ONE together with a coalition of over 40 organizations, is supporting Congressional co-sponsorship of the Water for the World Act, a bill that will strengthen implementation of the Water for the Poor Act and spur US leadership.