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Is Aid Really Making the World Fairer?

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2014-03-21-Mustafa_Abdulaziz_Ethiopia.jpgKebede Gezihagn, smiling as he washes in clean water at the new water point, Layhte, Konso, Ethiopia. WaterAid / Mustafah Abdulaziz

It's often said that the world is an unfair place, and the luck of the draw has far-reaching consequences. From the country you are born in, to your family members, to your journey through life, these events can shape and define us profoundly, even though for most of us the ability to influence them is minimal.

That you can even read this blog marks you out as one of the lucky ones. More than two-thirds of the people in the developing world aren't internet users. But even this chasm in access to information pales when we consider other, more basic services which we should also count ourselves lucky to have.

Scientists have detected gravitational waves in space, and the Higgs particle in gigantic underground detectors. Despite this abundance of progress and technology 1 in 10 people on this planet still do not have something as simple, as fundamental, as indispensable as safe drinking water.

The international community is trying to rectify this, and not without some success. For the first time in 2012, over $10 billion was committed by the international community of donors to help tackle the crisis around access to water and sanitation.

WaterAid, the international development charity I lead, has welcomed this new milestone in the world's efforts. However our new report, Bridging the Divide, looks deeper, analysing how much of this money is actually getting to where it is most desperately needed.

You may be surprised to learn that over the past decade, a third of the money pledged by aid donors for water and sanitation has failed to be delivered. That's US$27.6 billion out of the US$81.2 billion committed since 2002.

This is a staggering amount of money. It could have helped hundreds of millions of people gain access to water and sanitation.

No less incredible is that the world's 48 poorest countries, defined by the UN as Least Developed Countries, are due to receive just over a quarter (27.1%) of the $10.7 billion most recently committed, despite being the most in need of assistance.

These disparities in aid financing become even more glaring when the actual number of people lacking access to water and sanitation are taken into account.

For example, Jordan - despite having over 90% of its population with access to both water and sanitation - receives US$855 in aid for these services for each person lacking them. Mauritius (again with over 90% access) receives US$588 per person without. Bosnia-Herzegovina, with 95% of its people with water and sanitation, receives $192 per person without.

At the other end of the scale, in Ethiopia, receives just $1.56 in aid for water and sanitation for each person lacking, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo it is just $0.80 per person, and in Madagascar only $0.42. In all three countries, more than half the population are without clean drinking water and basic sanitation.

It's difficult to really answer why so much money is going to countries that have comparatively little need for it. Geographical and strategic interests, historical links with former colonies and domestic policies seem to be influential in decision-making.

Whatever governments' own reasoning, the overall picture is sobering. It demonstrates that the international community is failing to act collectively to effectively address these stark global inequalities.

WaterAid believes that if the right commitments are made it would be possible by 2030 to have a world where everyone, everywhere has access to water and to sanitation.

In just a few weeks, government ministers from developing countries and the West will gather in Washington for the Sanitation and Water for All partnership High-Level Meeting ahead of the World Bank Spring Meetings. UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon is expected to join World Bank President Jim Kim to open the discussions and lend their support to tackling this crisis.

This partnership of governments, international agencies and NGOs, including WaterAid, are focusing on the need for global accountability on delivering the pledges made. The UK's Secretary of State, Justine Greening is expected to attend as the UK government has shown leadership and commitment to this work.

With 2,000 children dying every day from water borne diseases due to a lack of access to clean drinking water and basic sanitation, it is vital that the international aid effort - which should be making the world a fairer place - is actually doing so, and as effectively as it can be.

Read more about the Bridging the Divide report here.

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