All to play for at Korea aid forum

Lucia Fry

Head of Policy

Greetings from Busan, South Korea’s second city, a palace of glittering neon by the sea – in many ways much more ‘developed’ than a British seaside resort.

I’m here for the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness (HLF4) the latest in a series of ministerial meetings aiming to improve the quality of aid. It’s always important to get the best bang for the buck out of aid funds, because poor people deserve no less. But in these straitened times, it’s more vital than ever to make every penny count.

As I write, 11th hour negotiations are close to breaking point on the agreement that Ministers are due to sign on Wednesday. An ambition to get China and other ‘new donors’ to sign up seems to have backfired, as an increasingly watered-down text fails repeatedly to bring them on board. Meanwhile, the African countries are demanding that donors stop tying aid and put their funds through developing country systems – we support their position wholeheartedly.

Tomorrow, we find out whether the negotiating team has managed to find a compromise, or whether the text will be put to Ministers for a very public battle on Wednesday. With US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arriving late tomorrow the hosts are sure to want to avoid an embarrassing showdown.

The ActionAid team and many other campaigning organisations are here to call the rich countries to account for broken promises on improving aid quality, and to press for remedial action. We believe that to end aid dependency, the international community must use the HLF4 to put countries in the driving seat of their own development.

This means donors putting money directly behind government plans – not running their own projects or forcing countries to spend money on the donor country’s goods and services, as many still do.

This is what ActionAid calls Real Aid, aid that directly benefits poor communities and helps citizens hold their governments to account. Currently 55% of aid is Real Aid. Some donors (Ireland, UK, Nordics) are performing much better than others (US, France, Germany).

Busan sees the international community at a crossroads. A weak agreement could see the world backslide into self-interested, ineffective aid which does not deliver real results for poor people; a big push to build on the aid effectiveness agenda from previous agreements would mean more Real Aid, to support poor countries in tackling poverty and ending aid dependency.

Follow me on @lucefry and use #HLF4 for up-to-the-minute info on negotiations.