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Binding Aid Commitments from the EU?

At a time when many European Union member states are cutting foreign aid budgets, the EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs suggested a binding mechanism to enforce foreign assistance targets. EU members have committed to a soft target of 0.7% of their Gross National Income, but not all members are achieving that target. In a recent interview with Reuters, Piebalgs stated “”If member states cannot keep to the soft-target guidance, then we will think of a binding scheme that would enforce the 0.7 percent target. We need to find the way.”

The whole discussion is kind of absurd; theater around a meaningless number. 0.7 percent is a ridiculous paltry number. It’s a political calculation, not based on need at all. It was chosen because it was low enough that countries were willing to agree to it. Yet we still can’t do it. (The US, for the record is nowhere near .7% in its assistance.) So getting worked up around a specific fraction of a percent doesn’t make a lot of sense.

That being said, getting worked up about declining foreign aid at a time when the world needs it most is both necessary and important. Mandating foreign aid contributions is certainly an innovative response to the dilemma.

Innovative but not feasible – the EU doesn’t actually have the power to mandate foreign aid contributions from its member states. I suspect that Piebalgs knows this. He ends the interview with his hope that the AU can meet its foreign aid commitments through a financial transaction tax, which is a far cry from mandatory government contributions.   


What the International Community Can Do For Haiti

Temporary shelter.

By Minh-Thu Pham, Director of Public Policy for the Better World Campaign/UN Foundation

I just returned from a visit to Haiti as part of a Congressional delegation to observe the earthquake relief effort and meet with officials from the UN mission, MINUSTAH, and the US Embassy. Despite the renewed awareness of Haiti’s problems, accounts in the press still seem to point to the earthquake as the source of the country’s present woes. But one can quickly see that it is a country that is as much stricken by poverty and instability as it is earthquake-stricken. Indeed, the earthquake destroyed what was already a precarious economic and political situation, albeit one that was on the path to rebuilding.

In fact, several people we spoke with acknowledged the difficulty of distinguishing between earthquake relief and the efforts to address the challenges in Haiti that existed long before this recent disaster. In the displaced persons camps, for instance, some of the people are not there as result of their homes being destroyed but because they did not have adequate homes to begin with. This poses both a moral and policy challenge. One MINUSTAH official said, “If we make them leave or don’t provide them with aid, the message is, I have to get hit by an earthquake to get help.” Oftentimes the people who did not have homes to begin with are the more vulnerable members of Haitian society. To only give aid to those who had homes can exacerbate tensions between the haves and have nots – and these are civil and political fault lines that we must be aware of when handling Haiti’s earthquake relief.

New site that was built to relieve overpopulation at the existing displaced persons camps. People were to arrive the next day.What have been long-standing issues in Haiti – extreme social inequality, ineffective and corrupt government, and political instability – have been exacerbated by the earthquake. Part of the challenge of managing the delivering emergency relief and recovery is understanding and navigating these sensitivities so that the relief effort does not undermine long term stability. The UN’s 17-year presence in Haiti has made it aware of these issues and the importance of allowing Haitians to tackle these problems themselves.

However, in the short term, that is difficult without further support. What was so devastating about the earthquake was that it rendered the government inoperable. On January 12, its ministries of public health, education, transportation, and agriculture all collapsed, as well as the presidential palace. Imagine if that had happened in the United States. While we must address the short-term emergency needs, it’s the long-term support for Haiti’s government that will be the hardest to get right.

On the same day I returned from my trip, the New York Times ran an editorial saying that Haiti needed direct budget support to build ‘a minimally effective Haitian government’ and pay what’s left of its civil servants, teachers, and police. From talking to UN officials, it was clear that just as important was providing capacity building and training to help build a new generation of Haitian civil servants. One way to do this is by harnessing the talents of the Haitian diaspora. I was heartened to hear that the US government is thinking creatively of ways to encourage the tens of thousands of highly skilled Haitians who live abroad, mostly in the United States, to take part in the rebuilding of their own country.

Ultimately, what will make the biggest difference are investments in Haiti’s future – namely, education, training, and employment. These are drivers of sustainable economic growth and stability that the Haitian people want. Several people told me that despite the warnings of impending rain, Haitians will figure out the shelter and rain issues because they are very resourceful. But what they are asking for is education and employment, because they know these are the best tools to help them help themselves. Inside a tent at the new site.  Concern, the Irish NGO, was handling the tent and logistics for this site, and project management was done by MINUSTAH staff.

To that end, the UN’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has worked with Haitian officials to develop a new syllabus that takes into account the trauma that children have suffered and the lost class time due to the earthquake. And the UN has just announced the reopening of many schools, after over 4000 of them were destroyed in the earthquake. And MINUSTAH hopes to have 14,000 Haitian police trained by the end of the year to provide law and order. These are encouraging signs.

For now, American officials we spoke to said that despite its enormous losses, the UN is doing a good job of coordinating the implementation of relief and recovery, and is working closely with the Haitian government. After the earthquake, the MINUSTAH was in shock because 101 UN staff were killed, including the entire top level of its management. But in the last couple of months, the UN has brought in several professional staff who are veterans of its work in Haiti. This has enabled them to bring people in on short notice with the expertise and understanding of the country’s unique needs and history. One UN official told us, “we cannot make decisions about Haiti for Haitians. We meet with the government regularly, and the government decides and the UN implements.”

Critical to implementation is taking into account the country’s long term issues and finding ways to help Haitians help themselves. While emergency aid is important, it’s the combination of capacity building and budget support to the government, the provision of education, training and employment opportunities to the people, and a resolution to the country’s political woes that will help to address the inequalities that make Haiti vulnerable to natural disasters. Only then can it become the self-reliant nation that its people hope it to be.

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Extractive Industry Association Dismisses Equatorial Guinea

Last week, the board of the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) decided to remove Equatorial Guinea – still merely a candidate for full membership – from the group for failing to meet the deadline to have audits of their industries independently verified. The EITI, launched in 2003, is a joint effort by companies, governments and civil society to instill transparency and promote good governance in the extractive industries sector. The concept is simple: EITI sets a global standard in reporting how revenue flows from natural resource extraction are managed – companies make their payments to governments public, and, in turn, governments disclose exactly what they receive. This dual system of accountability and transparency allows governments to be certified “EITI compliant”. EITI compliance translates into a greater ability for developing nations to attract foreign investors, and is a way for the industry to improve its public image. This is of course a tall order, and EITI doesn’t  guarantee that mismanagement of revenues from natural resources doesn’t occur. However, EITI enjoys a wide acceptance by multinational firms, governments, international organizations and and civily society, and its “global standard” in reporting a is a critical step towards addressing the root causes of the “resource curse”.

Equatorial Guinea is a poster child for the resource curse. Last summer, Human Rights Watch released a report framing the human rights situation in Equatorial Guinea in no uncertain terms. While the country’s GDP had increased by 5,000 percent since oil was discovered in the early 90s - its GDP per capita puts it right between Belgium and Denmark – grinding poverty persists. The president of Equatorial Guinea, Mr. Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has been in power since 1979, has been described as a “predator of press freedom” by Reporters without Borders. Over the years, reports of human rights abuses, political imprisonment and torture have emerged, and the people of Equatorial Guinea, in spite of the wealth beneath their feet, continue to be the victims of their leadership.

EITI’s decision to revoke Equatorial Guinea’s candidacy is an important one. Indeed, while advocacy organizations have criticized the body for setting a “very low bar for countries’ performance” and for barely “scraping through the credibility test“, I think this signals the body’s willingness to apply their own rules strictly. Given EITI’s potential as a pre-eminent tool to address poor management of natural resources, we should be encouraged by their board’s decision.

Now, it will be interesting to keep an eye on the progress of the other 16 countries who were granted extensions on their deadline, most of which are nations dealing with serious governance issues. Let’s hope that the EITI continues on its current path – the last thing we need is a rubber stamp for the continued mismanagement of natural resource wealth.

Image: flickr EITI

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Parsing the White House Statement on Elections in Sudan

The White House finally pronounces on Sudan’s national elections:

The elections held recently in Sudan were an essential step in a process laid out by Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The United States notes the initial assessment of independent electoral observers that Sudan’s elections did not meet international standards. Political rights and freedoms were circumscribed throughout the electoral process, there were reports of intimidation and threats of violence in South Sudan, ongoing conflict in Darfur did not permit an environment conducive to acceptable elections, and inadequacies in technical preparations for the vote resulted in serious irregularities. The United States regrets that Sudan’s National Elections Commission did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting.

The people of Sudan are to be commended for their efforts to make Sudan’s first multi-party elections in over two decades peaceful and meaningful. In the months and years ahead it will be critical to continue pressing for progress for the civil and political rights of all of the Sudanese people. This priority will not expire with the CPA, and all parties should draw on this experience to improve preparations for future elections and referenda.

The United States also remains committed to working with the international community to support implementation of outstanding elements of the CPA and ensure that the referendum happens on time and that its results are respected. With partners in the region and beyond, we will continue to engage in the preparations necessary to support peace and stability after the 2011 referenda, and continue to promote peace, security, and accountability in Darfur.

I’d just point out that there is something incongruous about calling the elections an “essential step” in a peace process, then slamming those very elections as deeply flawed. If the elections were flawed, wouldn’t that represent a setback to the peace agreement?

The statement seems to show that the White House is trying to accommodate the competing visions for Sudan policy that have been duking it out in the inter-agency process.  But by embracing two messages that contradict each other, what we end up with is incoherence.

There are compelling arguments to be made on both sides of the policy debate, but splitting the difference does not seem to make much sense at all. 

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Haiti Funding Update

One month after the Haiti earthquake the United Nations issued a $1.4 billion “Flash” appeal for emergency funding for things like tents, food, shelter and other relief items.  Two months later, that appeal is still only half filled.  Here’s where we stand.


Note, this appeal is for most basic items and projects that are required for immediate recovery efforts. It does not include the $10 billion pledged last month for Haiti’s long term reconstruction

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Remember Yemen? Refugees and IDPs Still Struggling (Video)

Remember Yemen? It was only four months ago that everyone and their second cousin seemed to be pronouncing on the country.  Now, you  hear nary a squeak about the place. 

Since late last year, the UN Refugee Agency has been trying to sound the alarm on a looming humanitarian disaster stemming from massive internal displacement caused by civil war.  When the would-be underwear bomber was said to have received training there, it seemed that the international community was poised to get to some of the root causes of instability.  That did not exactly happen. Instead, the first response was to bolster U.S.-Yemen military relations.  Humanitarian aid was slower to come

Today, the UN Refugee Agency is struggling to keep up with the needs of some 30,000 internally displaced. Here is a glimpse of life inside one of those camps, provided by UNHCR.  


UN humanitarian agencies were in Yemen long before the underwear bomber visited the place–and they will remain long after. They deserve our support.

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