With cuts in the pipeline, Australian aid effectiveness in question

A woman receives food rations from the Australian government and the World Food Program at the Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. Photo by: Kate Holt / Africa Practice / CC BY 

How effective was Australia’s aid program in 2013 and 2014?

The world’s 10th largest bilateral donor was able to provide 3 million people access to safe drinking water, 2 million people access to proper hygiene and 1 million people with basic sanitation facilities. There has been significant improvement in all regions that received Australian aid during the period, with nearly 68 percent of programs deemed on track.

These were the results of a recent assessment of the Australian aid program’s performance during that two-year period. Notably, it is also within this period that Prime Minister Tony Abbott implemented a slew of aid budget cuts — 11 billion Australian dollars ($8.6 billion) through 2018.

The projects and programs evaluated in the report, released last week, were funded before Abbott was elected into the country’s highest office. The results of the assessment underscored the effectiveness of the Australian aid program, raising the question of how effective future programs will be with drastically reduced funding.

“Why is the government undermining taxpayer investment by cutting the aid program when its own report confirms [that] aid works and it makes a positive difference in people’s lives?” Pam Anders, Oxfam Australia’s public engagement director, asked in a statement.

The aid cuts were part of a massive overhaul Abbott’s conservative coalition government implemented to reduce inefficiencies in Australia’s official development assistance, which has increasingly been focused on creating value for money and cultivating aid for trade. This policy shift and resulting budget reductions not surprisingly drew derision from local and international aid advocates — but also questions that still remain unanswered.

The guessing game continues

Perhaps one of the most important unaddressed concerns is where exactly these cuts will fall. Two months since the last round of slashes were announced and there still is no clarity around the sectors, countries and regions that will see reductions in funding allocations.

Garth Luke, World Vision Australia’s senior adviser for government aid and development policy, told Devex this whole guessing game of where the cuts will be felt has not only stalled the process of development, but also made it difficult for affected stakeholders to know where they stand in the whole scheme of things.

Luke is hopeful that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would at least have a process to identify which activities “are the least cost-effective in reducing poverty.”

“If this occurs,” he noted, “the quality of the program could be largely maintained, however, of course, the scale of the impact would be reduced.”

Mat Tinkler, Save the Children Australia’s public affairs and policy director, echoes this sentiment. While the details of where the cuts will be made are still up in the air, he nonetheless believes the effects would still be negative.

“It’s still too early to tell how the severe cuts to the aid budget will affect this performance,” he told Devex. “But with an annual budget dropping from $5 billion to $4 billion, we know it’s going to be impossible to fit everything in and the world’s poorest children and families will pay the price.”

Several programs have already felt the impact of these cuts. Organizations like the Mandala Foundation lost government funding, and a number of former Australian Agency for International Development employees were let go as a result of the agency’s amalgamation into DFAT.

Given the circumstances, Luke believes maintaining the effectiveness of the Australian aid program all lies on how implementing partners would be able to adapt and find alternative ways to carry out their mandates. But the Australian government needs to adapt as well, the policy expert suggested.

“[With] the restrictions on funding, the government hopefully will also seek to maximize pro-development policies that do not have budget implications in areas such as trade, immigration and knowledge-sharing,” he concluded.

Australia will be releasing its 2015-2016 budget in mid-May. Which programs and countries do you think will be most affected by the massive cuts in the aid budget? Have your say by leaving a comment below.

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About the author

  • Lean 2

    Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.