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Aid Saves Lives - Better Aid Can Help Change the World

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The grainy black and white footage shows frightened refugees fleeing conflict and hunger. They make their way to a place of safety and care, run by Save the Children, and you see the smiles.

The grainy footage I am talking about is from South Korea, and the person showing it to me is Nobho Kim, the CEO of Save the Children Korea - a fast growing Save the Children member raising millions of dollars for children in Africa and Asia.

As the Korean government notes appreciatively, "between 1945 until the early 1990s, Korea received diverse forms of development assistance from the international community, which served as a valuable advantage in its miraculous economic growth."

Indeed, in the early 1960s, when Korea's per capita income was lower than Sub-Saharan Africa, aid represented over 6% of its gross national income.

Now Korea is giving back on track to triple their aid spending by 2015, and is the justifiably proud host of the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness taking place.

The forum, in the booming city of Busan brings together world leaders like Hilary Clinton, Ban Ki-moon and Paul Kagame, private sector development champions like Bill Gates, and civil society organisations from across the globe to look at how aid can best tackle poverty and support development.

It's the last major meeting on aid effectiveness before 2015, the target year agreed by all countries for major progress on health, schools and growth.

Some of the negative reporting of aid and development implies that things only ever get worse.

But globally, compared with 1990, 40 million more children are in school, and over 4 million more children survive each year.

Sector budget support has helped governments to introduce basic services that are free at the point of use, including for primary education in Rwanda, Uganda and Mali, and basic healthcare in Zambia.

Malawi's Emergency Human Resources Programme (EHRP) increased the health workforce by 53% between 2004 and 2009, saving an estimated 13,000 lives. The government could not have paid for the entire plan, including the substantial salary top-ups, without donor support.

Millions of children are alive and in school because of aid. So the internationally agreed goal (only met by a handful of donors) - that out of every $10 rich a rich country has, they should keep $9.93 and give seven cents to help tackle global poverty - needs to be upheld, even in these tough times.

But just as we need to celebrate aid's achievements, we also need to improve it further. We need more aid for the money already donated, as well as more money for aid.

Lack of coordination by donors and burdensome processes mean that in Tanzania, donor visits can take up 10-20% of a district medical officer's time, with report-writing consuming even more.

This takes the focus away from managing health systems to save children's lives. Donors' 'tying' of aid requiring aid to be used for products or services from the donor's home country, means that substantial aid resources flow back to donors rather than being spent in ways that could help children most.

IMF conditions have placed restrictions on public sector wage bills, limiting the ability of countries like Zambia to expand the number of health workers. And many donors still refuse to follow the standards they insist on for others. When the Rwandan government asked donors to assess their efficiency, donors were reluctant to peer review each other's performance.

We can do better. By giving aid predictably over several years, donors can improve the value of aid by over 20%. By untying aid, donors can improve the value by 15-30%.

Transparency in aid by all DAC countries would be equivalent to an additional 3 billion dollars.

Most importantly, donors can increase the impact and sustainability of aid by coordinating in support of country-owned plans, rather than running their own projects by supporting the development of national capacity and by supporting monitoring that holds donors as well as partner countries to account

Amidst the modernity of South Korea it's hard to imagine it was ever poor, that the proud grandparents were ever hungry children. If we get Busan right, then it may be just as hard one day for anyone to imagine Africa as anything other than the prosperous continent it deserves to be.

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