A boy carries a bag containing food supplies distributed during a humanitarian aid drop in Iraq. The possibility of a future world free from aid is one of the discussion points in the Fourth High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, South Korea. Photo by: DVIDSHUB / CC BY

With World AIDS Day right around the corner, the global health community, activists, celebrities and politicians are all turning their attention to “the beginning of the end,” mobilizing efforts to increase treatment and prevent new infections so that one day, not too far off, we can have a world free from AIDS. It’s an ambitious goal, but not an impossible one, and with political will and impressive research advances, we can make this a reality.

But this week marks another momentous event on the world stage — one that will never attract the same public attention and celebrity fanfare. There will be no rock stars or actors or flashy public service announcements, but there will be over 2,500 participants, including government ministers, NGO heads, civil society representatives, and corporate leaders gathering in Busan, South Korea, to bring attention to the need for improved development cooperation and to discuss the possibility of a future world free from … aid.

So far, progress toward more effective development cooperation has been frustratingly slow. There has been little progress in meeting the promises that a group of wealthy donors and developing countries made when they signed a declaration in Paris, designed to improve the quality and impact of aid through enhanced coordination and alignment with developing country priorities. At the same time, OECD countries are feeling the pinch of increasing deficits and rising unemployment, and some are responding by trying to balance budgets, including cuts in foreign aid. But with only four years left to meet the Millennium Development Goals, resources for developing countries are needed now more than ever. It is critical that aid and other development financing are delivered in the most efficient and impactful way to deliver real results to those living in poverty. The Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan is a great opportunity to help make that happen.

Yet, despite its name, this year’s forum is not just about aid. Although aid still remains a significant resource to some of the poorest countries — which is why those commitments made in Paris are so important — it is clear that other forms of financing like domestic taxation and other resource mobilization, natural resource expenditures, private capital and other investments are all just as crucial to contributing to development and even more essential for sustaining development in the long term. In time, we all want to see a world where these forms of financing provide all of the resources that are needed, and aid becomes unnecessary.

But even if we do everything right, can we really make aid redundant? I believe so. In 2009, official development assistance from members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee to developing countries amounted to $120 billion, while private financial flows, including philanthropy and investments equaled $281 billion. And in 2008, exports of oil, gas and minerals from Africa were worth roughly nine times the value of international aid to the continent – $393 billion versus $44 billion. Yet despite all of these resource flows, many countries still remain mired in poverty. In short, these resources don’t always reach the people who need it the most. In order to see the most efficient and effective use of all resources, including aid, and to eventually get to a day when countries no longer rely on aid, it is critical that all of us gathering in Busan focus on transparency and results.

Transparency is key to accountability, both to taxpayers who want to know how aid money is being spent and the results it achieves, but also to empower citizens in developing countries with the information on aid and domestic budgets to monitor and scrutinize development projects, and provide feedback on policies and progress. And to be accountable for development resources and projects, all development partners must be able to demonstrate impact and build capacity to measure results at the country level. Clear and measurable commitments from all participants at Busan will be crucial to making this a reality.

Donors should increase resources in advance of the MDG deadlines, and must not back down on their promises to deliver their aid commitments. But it is also clear that tightened budgets, increased public pressure, and plain old smart policy dictates that we make the most efficient use of the resources we give, and that we leverage our aid dollars as a catalyst for other forms of development financing. This is the point that Bill Gates made so eloquently to G-20 leaders when he presented his report to them in Cannes earlier this month.

Will we really see a world free from aid in our lifetime? It’s an ambitious goal, but not an impossible one, and those gathered in Busan this week to debate the future of development cooperation should know: The world is watching.

To find about more about how transparent and accountable development financing can lead to better development outcomes and more sustainable development results, read ONE’s policy brief here.

About the author

  • Sara Messer

    Sara Messer is ONE's policy manager for aid effectiveness, dealing with both global aid transparency and effectiveness, and U.S. foreign aid reform. Prior to ONE, Messer managed operations for the Africa Growth Initiative at the Brookings Institution, where she also served as project coordinator for the global economy and development program.