Aid Effectiveness: "The unbearable lightness of the Busan Declaration"

Activists pass a message in Busan
(Photo: Oxfam)

Civil society organizations that participated in the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held this week in Busan, South Korea, regretted that the deal reached at the conference was not binding for all the donor countries, and the lack of a rights based approach, especially on gender, and of commitments on favorable conditions for the NGOs.

“The deal struck […] will only live up to its historic potential if nations follow through on their promises,” stated BetterAid, a coalition of more than 1,700 aid groups. The alliance expressed “regret that the agreement apparently does not include binding commitments or specific actions."

“There's too much unfinished business here,” agreed Gregory Adams, of the international aid agency Oxfam. Adams said that “one billion poor people are waiting for more than words: they want measurable action.”

The Busan declaration suffers from an “unbearable lightness”, accused ODA Watch, a South Korean watchdog organization. “Even though Busan made meaningful efforts and results building for inclusive partnership, it still has much limitations,” said the group in a statement.

The declaration suggests that the principles, commitments and actions reached in Busan shall be voluntary for emerging nations such as China, India, Brazil and other emerging economies. The statement recognizes their “differential commitments” and noted that the actions were “voluntary” for them, explained in a press release Publish What You Fund, part of the Better Aid Open Platform.

Amid increasing pressure, Beijing was apparently reluctant to join to the club of major donors, reported The Korea Times.

Pros and cons

“This meeting became a conversation between Northern and Southern donors about what kind of aid they want to give, not about what the world’s poorest people need,” explained Oxfam’s Adams. But the agreement “puts more countries now at the table, and accountable for their actions,” he remarked.

"It's a big step forward that China is at the table, but it's a pity that they aren't yet ready to promise to act on what they say," said Antonio Tujan, chair of BetterAid and the representative of the civil society at the negotiations.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cautioned on Wednesday developing nations to be "smart shoppers" and to beware some donor countries which might be more interested in extracting natural resources than promoting development, reported AFP news agency.

Without mentioning China by name, she urged developing countries to avoid "quick fixes" that fill short-term budget gaps without lasting benefit, added the French agency.


“Favorable conditions” for CSOs needed

The outcome document was signed by heads of state, ministers, members of parliaments and other representatives of developing and developed countries, heads of multilateral and bilateral institutions, representatives of different types civil society, private, local and regional organizations.

“By participating in high level negotiations on aid and development for the first time, people’s organizations can take credit for cementing democratic ownership and human rights in the Busan Outcome Document – but more works needs to be done on advancing favorable conditions for civil society,” added Emele Duituturaga, co-chair of Open Forum, a global civil society platform engaging thousands of organizations worldwide.

Commitments from governments and donors on conditions for CSOs were not fully defined, particularly in light of the growing evidence of a crackdown on civil society in many parts of the world, added Open Forum in a press release.

“Governments must recognize CSOs as not only social actors but also political actors in the democratization of our societies”, said Ruben Fernandez, of the Latin America CSO network ALOP.


Disappointment on the gender issue

The Forum in Busan failed to deal with the lack of a rights based approach, nor ensuring that aid is spent for the benefit of the poorest, particularly women and children, in fragile states such as Somalia, Haiti and The Ivory Coast, remarked BetterAid.

The UN reports that women represent over 70% of the world’s poor. “Women’s empowerment is much more than just using them as engines of growth. This document failed to recognize women’s rights,” said Kasia Staszewska, from WIDE Network and BetterAid.

Women’s organizations from around the world choose not to endorse Busan Joint Action Plan on Gender Equality and Development launched by Hillary Clinton.

“We all know that increasing the number of women available in the labour market can be very profitable. But does it result in better development outcomes or rights for women? Not from our experience,” said Azra Sayeed of Roots for Equity, Pakistan.

“A human rights-based plan should be developed in dialogue with women’s rights organizations and gender equality advocates,” agreed Katia Uriona, member of the Coordinadora de la Mujer, Bolivia.

“We heard quite a bit about the potential economic growth women can generate, but we didn’t hear anything about guaranteeing decent work, sovereignty over land and resources,  or shifting economic and social systems that impoverish and discriminate against women” said Kate Lappin, from the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development.


More transparency also needed

Aid donors made significant progress on transparency to ensure that aid has the best possible impact in the future, said in a press release Publish What You Fund.

The group reported that in the run up to and during the Forum in Busan 26 donors published information about their aid spending, among them the Asian Development Bank, the UNDP, the UNOPS, the Inter-American Development Bank, the International Fund for Agriculture and Development, Spain, Sweden, Finland, the United States and Canada, all of them representing over three-quarters of international aid flows.

“Donors who remain outside the fold, such as France and Japan, should sign up immediately,” said Karin Christiansen, managing director of Publish What You Fund.

Donors agreed to align their aid with recipient country’s systems, and to accelerate their efforts to untie aid. They reiterated promises to make their aid more predictable, and to reduce fragmentation and the proliferation of aid channels.


European Union criticized

The EU gives 50% of global aid, but it failed to show leadership in Busan, according to civil society organizations that participated in the conference.

“The European Union was a ghost at the global aid summit,” said Justin Kilcullen, president of the European ONG Confederation for Relief and Development (CONCORD), at a press conference in Busan. “Despite contributing €53billion to development aid a year, the EU allowed a watered down agreement to accommodate geopolitical agendas.”

For her part, Oxfam spokesperson Farida Bena said: “This is a time to make the aid the EU gives better, not worse. We’ve are hugely disappointed at the EU’s lack of leadership.”

“EU’s performance in Busan was disappointing,” agreed Timo Lappalainen, of the Service Centre for Development Cooperation (KEPA), focal point of Social Watch in Finland. “We European CSOs now have a mountain to climb over to push the EU take an active role and live up to its vision as a responsible global force.”

This report is based on data from the following sources:
High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness:
Blog of AidWatch and CONCORD:
Open Forum for CSO Development Effectiveness:
Publish What You Fund:
The Reality of Aid:
The Korea Times:
The Korea Herald: