2021 is here and the world is still grappling with one of the most devastating pandemics of modern times. Even some developed economies have found themselves unable to respond effectively to this global public health emergency, while the situation in most developing countries is alarming.
The economic consequences of the pandemic have also cast a shadow on the international community’s path towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out in the United Nations 2030 Agenda.
In this regard, the pandemic has heightened the importance of “genuine” international cooperation.
An important part of international development cooperation concerns foreign aid, a practice that was institutionalized in the aftermath of World War II with the primary aim of rebuilding nations devastated by conflict. Over the years, this Western-dominated system has adopted different strategies, but its role in global development has gradually become controversial due to the unsatisfactory results it has achieved. As a result, there are now calls for a new architecture of international aid.
There are two reasons for the inability of the existing system to produce sufficient results: the lack of accountability on the part of donors for their commitments and ineffectiveness in the way aid is distributed and used.
Indeed, statistics show that there has been a huge gap between countries’ pledges and their actions on foreign aid.
In 1970, the United Nations General Assembly adopted an ambitious strategy which called on each economically advanced country to gradually increase its “official development assistance (ODA)” to developing countries to a minimum level of 0.7 percent of its gross national product (GNP) by 1975.
In the following years, however, only a few members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) succeeded in achieving this goal.
Sweden and the Netherlands met the target in 1975, followed by Norway and Denmark. Luxembourg and the UK joined this group in 2000 and 2013, respectively, but no other OECD-DAC country has since consistently achieved this target.
It is striking that the weighted average ODA of DAC members has never exceeded 0.4 percent of GNP. In fact, the latest statistics show that in 2019, total ODA to DAC member states was only 0.3% of their combined gross national income (GNI).
In 2019, only five DAC members reached or exceeded the 0.7% threshold: the United Kingdom (0.7%), Denmark (0.71%), Sweden (0.99%), Norway (1.02%) and Luxembourg (1.05%).
As in 2018, the highest ODA / GNI ratio in 2019 in the OECD dataset came from Turkey, which is not a DAC member but an observer, at 1.15%.
These statistics clearly show that a majority of high-income countries have so far ignored or only partially honored their development cooperation commitments. This illustrates the frustrating situation that prevails decades after the UN adopted its ODA strategy.
Today, as the pandemic and its economic consequences add to the challenges the developing world has long known, developed countries have a responsibility to immediately begin to honor their decades-old pledge.
In this context, Turkey’s foreign aid performance over the past 15 years should be seen as an inspiring example. As the data reveals, Turkey, an upper middle-income economy, has done more than its share in terms of global aid commitments based on the principles of humanitarian imperative and non-partisanship under the leadership of the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The statistical snapshot above explains to some extent why development prospects around the world are always below desired levels. However, insufficient funding is only one facet of failure. While high-income and even upper-middle-income countries are to think seriously about their financial contributions, they must also focus on the effectiveness of foreign aid. Countless development programs and projects in the past have yielded little benefit to targeted countries and instead wasted resources.
The effectiveness of any development assistance effort rests on two pillars: design and delivery.
How foreign aid is formulated at the very beginning determines its outcome. Good design requires a multifactorial approach, including the appropriate identification of decision-makers and beneficiaries, as well as the objectives and type of cooperation envisaged. For any aid effort to be successful, it must also be formed on the basis of humanitarian principles and authenticity.
But good design cannot guarantee success without efficient delivery. For foreign aid to produce effective results, it must be delivered transparently and without unnecessary bureaucratic delays. Accountability is another key factor in this regard.
In short, countries and institutions must find specific and well thought out formulas to provide effective aid to each country in need.
Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world still struggle with poverty and hunger. The percentage of the world’s population that gets by in unsanitary living conditions is still considerable. In addition, the pandemic has further crippled the already limited capacity of many developing countries to lift their citizens out of poverty.
Therefore, if the world is to achieve the SDGs set out in the UN’s 2030 Agenda, it must act and act quickly. Today, donor countries have a heavy responsibility to honor their development aid commitments and to engage in effective development cooperation. The pandemic, and the suffering it continues to cause, should serve as a stark reminder of the overriding need for a new architecture for international development cooperation that is just, efficient and functional.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.