Fixing foreign aid

Fixing foreign aid

After many mumblings of foreign assistance reform in the works, some concrete signs came from today’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing, “The Case for Reform: Foreign Aid and Development in a New Era.

That the Senate is holding such a hearing in the first place cause for applause. Once taboo, critiques of the U.S. aid system are now prolific — coming from NGOs, academics, observers, and even the U.S. government itself. In fact, FP and Oxfam held a joint event to talk about just this last week. The flurry of discussion is clearly being noticed.

So what’s wrong with aid? As Senator John Kerry put it in his statement,

[Experts] agree that too often decision-makers lack basic information about the actual impact of our development programs. They also agree that excessive bureaucracy and regulations and fragmented coordination are hampering our efforts to swiftly and effectively deliver assistance. And they agree that even as we plan for broad, fundamental reform, there are many steps we can take in the interim to dramatically improve the effectiveness of our foreign aid efforts.”

Fixing all that is a tall order, especially with big domestic fish to fry (read: healthcare). But Afghanistan and Pakistan — once again the first fronts on the war on terror — bring these questions to the fore. There, the U.S. military is desperate to win hearts and minds, and helping out with roads, schools, hospitals — in addition to security — is one of the best ways to do just that. As the Counterinsurgency manual puts it, “military operations create temporary breathing space, but… long-term development and stabilization by civilian agencies are required to prevail.”

So I, for one, am pleased that there are discussions ongoing — and hopeful they’ll be followed up with action. Read more about what the experts on the ground think needs fixing here.