Italy needs to clarify development cooperation strategy — OECD

Lapo Pistelli, the vice foreign minister in charge of development cooperation in Italy. Photo by:  Lapo Pistelli / CC BY-ND

The latest OECD Development Assistance Committee peer review of Italy to be officially launched next week is a reminder of the importance of how good policies and political leadership can bring development cooperation that is not only effective, but also ambitious and visionary.

The world is a richer and better place to live in than ever before. Poverty has been reduced by 1 percent every year since 1990, and the Millennium Development Goal of halving the percentage of people suffering from hunger is within reach. However, thousands of people unnecessarily die every day from poverty and hunger while roughly one third of all the food produced in the world is wasted. This would be more than enough to feed the world’s 870 million people who go hungry every day.

Italy has shown leadership in tackling global food issues, and Rome is the intellectual capital of food and agricultural issues as home to FAO, IFAD and WFP, the U.N. food and agricultural agencies. This type of global leadership is what we need to reduce waste and produce enough food for a growing population on land under increasing stress from climate change. As the host to the 2015 World Expo “Feeding the Planet: Energy for Life,” the new Italian government is set to continue the country’s leading role on food security and sustainable agriculture in international development.

A historical high level of official development assistance was provided last year. ODA increased by 6 percent to a new record of $134.5 billion, the United Kingdom reached the target of spending 0.7 percent of its gross national income on ODA for the first time, and Turkey increased aid spending by 30 percent.

In the case of Italy, the amount of ODA also increased, and while the country has committed to double its ODA/GNI ratio from the current low level of 0.14 percent by 2017, Italy still remains far from the long-standing 0.7 percent goal. ODA makes a huge difference to the world’s poor, and I very much look forward to Italy being a growing part of this effort. Everything is possible with political will, and much more can be done.

The new government has big and important plans for reforms in Italy, including foreign aid policy. A new law governing aid programs is in the works, and a recently introduced bill proposes the creation of a new development cooperation agency. Lapo Pistelli, the vice foreign minister in charge of development cooperation, looks determined to make the necessary changes.

OECD’s latest peer review of Italy finds that the contribution to international development could be more effective with a clearer overall strategy. No country would leave their own education policies or health care to chance, and that should neither be the case with development cooperation. Secondly, a whole-of-government approach would bring together knowledge from across the different departments and increase efficiencies. For example, development and environment should be seen as one issue in Italy.

No country will sacrifice development for the environment, but development comes to a stop if natural resources are exhausted, water polluted and soil degraded in the process. Finally, the review recommends that Italy concentrate its development efforts on fewer countries and partner organizations to maximize use of limited resources.

Most importantly, the world lacks leadership on many global issues, and Italy can step up and play a much bigger role in the world, particularly when it comes to food security.

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About the author

  • Erik Solheim

    Erik Solheim is chair of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee since January 2013, and incoming executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. With a solid background in climate, the environment and peace building, Solheim was also Norway’s minister for international development from 2005 to 2012.