OECD-DAC's peer review of UK aid: More and better development assistance

Humanitarian aid from the U.K. are loaded onto an aircraft for air drop over northern Iraq. Erik Solheim, chair of OECD-DAC, praised the U.K. for its ODA spending. Photo by: Neil Bryden / RAF / DfID / CC BY-NC

Development progress has been enormous over the past decades with halving of both extreme poverty and child mortality. But more and better official development assistance will be needed to continue the success and end poverty in all its form by 2030 while protecting the planet.

More ODA than ever before, $134.8 billion, was provided in 2013. The United Kingdom increased ODA spending by 30 percent and reached for the first time the international target of 0.7 percent of gross national income for foreign aid. The ability to increase aid in tough economic times serves as an example to other countries in similar situations. This milestone for the world’s second-largest donor shows that political will and broad political support makes it possible to achieve ambitious goals.

The U.K. also reached the United Nations target of providing at least 0.15 percent of national income to the least developed countries. More than half of its bilateral aid goes to countries in sub-Saharan Africa in accordance with the British government’s clear focus on reducing poverty in low-income countries and fragile states.

Quantity of aid is important, but quality and effective policies is much more important. The big success stories of the past decades in South Korea, China and Ethiopia happened because the governments chose good policies for education, agriculture and industrialization, and mobilized the private investments and domestic resources needed to implement them. National leadership is key. But effective ODA can also be catalyst for state-building and resource mobilization. The Busan principles of aligning behind the priorities of governments, using country systems and monitoring results are the globally agreed principles for effective development cooperation.

The U.K.’s strong emphasis on effectiveness and results is important to justify increased spending to taxpayers and respond to scrutiny from politicians and activists. The U.K. Department for International Development has developed an impressive results system and is one of the best in the world on evaluating success and failures. Our latest peer review found that the U.K. has focused on producing more and better evidence about what works on the ground. They have fully implemented 15 out of 19 recommendations in the previous review.

DfID is also producing top-class analytical work to identify the best policies. Much more of this brilliant work should be shared with other countries and there is always the question of how many reports we really need in this world. The recently established innovation hub is established to seek better solutions for development challenges. Katalyst, a Bangladeshi organization selling high-quality seeds in minipackets to help increase poor farmers’ yields and winner of the OECD-DAC Prize 2014 for taking development innovation to scale, is just one example of innovative projects funded by British ODA.

But more could be done to increase aid effectiveness. For example, by bringing in a development dimension to the broader work of the government and drawing on capacities in other departments in areas like fisheries, agriculture, justice and energy. The U.K. should build on its success in anti-corruption, climate change, tax and trade where DfID promoted joint efforts with other parts of the government. An example is police work conducted in the U.K. with the aim of stopping illicit financial flows and return corruption proceeds and other stolen assets to developing countries.

There is a clear political drive to achieve and showcase results. But this has resulted in too heavy reporting requirements and bureaucratic procedures that put unnecessary burden on DfID, partner organizations and recipient governments. The U.K. could very well be more flexible and streamlining reporting requirements with other donors. Working more within national evaluation systems would provide opportunities to reduce costs of monitoring while building up local skills in statistics and management. The U.K. is also advised to apply different approaches of control in different countries with more rigorous procedures for high-risk countries and weak states.

The United Kingdom’s development assistance is very high and very good. The challenge will to keep it high and make it even better!

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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.