Oxfam has in a report admitted publicly for the first, ‘faults’ in the delivery of development aid. But, the report published Thursday 20th May says, despite its faults aid has helped transform the lives of millions of poor people in Africa and beyond and it will be irresponsible to cut or stop it.
The report 21st Century Aid, Oxfam’s answer to recent attacks on development aid, sets out how aid contributes to economic growth by improving health services, giving millions more children an education and supporting poor people’s livelihoods.
Aid, the report says, has helped to reduce the number of children who die before their fifth birthday by 4 million since 1990, put 33 million more children in the classroom and increased tenfold the number of people receiving HIV medication.
In particular the report highlighted Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, Rwanda, and Tanzania as providing successful case studies for Oxfam’s aid development work.
South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying: ‘This report is a timely reminder that aid has transformed the lives of millions of people around the world – giving them access to life-saving healthcare and their children chance to attend school. Aid critics who ignore the benefits aid brings are at best misguided and at worst putting ideology ahead of real improvements in the lives of poor men women and children.’
Sweeping dismissals of aid are dangerous and risk cuts in support that is a lifeline to millions, the agency said. Oxfam acknowledges that some aid money is misspent, but argues this a reason to improve aid, not reduce it. Aid itself can and does play a key role in fighting corruption, paying the salaries of policemen and judges in Africa, strengthening the free press and helping ordinary people in poor countries to hold their governments to account.
An example, Oxfam says, can be found in Malawi, where it has worked with the Malawi economic justice network (MEJN) to increase transparency in the national budget through enhancing the ability of civil society organisations (CSOs) to hold their government to account.
MEJN, is a coalition of CSOs and campaigns for pro-poor policies that focuses on four social sectors: health, education, agriculture, and water and sanitation. It carries out budget analysis and expenditure tracking, and uses these to lobby Members of Parliament to scrutinise specific commitments. MEJN also trains local CSOs to understand the budget process and track whether national budget allocations have reached the intended beneficiaries at community level.
The Executive Director of MEJN, Andrew Kumbatira, says: ‘We believe the national budget should reflect the aspirations of the poor majority in Malawi…Over the years, I’ve seen real progress in the ability of civil society to keep politicians on their toes. CSOs now understand the budget cycle, and we work together to make sure that the government’s financial promises on public services are really reaching those who need them the most.’
The agency warns that in the current economic climate, governments may use sweeping criticisms as cover for not delivering promised aid increases, jeopardising key commitments such as ensuring every mother and child has access to free health care.
The report can be seen as a direct response to a surge in criticism of development aid over the past 18 months that threatens to undermine public and official support. Prominent critics include Dambisa Moyo, a World Bank consultant, the International Policy Network and media commentators