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Time for a grand re-think of grand aid plans
Contributed by William Easterly, SciDev.Net   

Aid donors should re-think their self-appointed role as saviours of the poor, and try more modest and realistic approaches, argues William Easterly.

Over the past five decades, the West has donated US$2.3 trillion in foreign aid to poor countries. Most of this money has been funnelled into a series of grand plans to eradicate poverty — plans that have become increasingly high-profile in a bid to attract money from both public and private purses.

After being lobbied by rock stars to "make poverty history" in Africa, G8 countries doubled foreign aid to Africa from US$25 billion to $50 billion in 2005. But as advocacy for increased aid grows ever stronger, what do we have to show for it?

Value of piecemeal projects

African children are still dying of malaria for sleeping without a mosquito net and for lack of 12 US cent medicines that could treat them once infected. Of course, aid has helped, mainly through piecemeal efforts such as oral rehydration therapy to counteract the effects of diarrhoea, or with sanitation projects. It is this type of success that is more feasible than a grand plan aiming, for example, to provide everyone in the world with clean water by 2015.

Take bednets, for example: development economist Jeffrey Sachs, along with celebrities such as Bono and Bill Clinton, has often lobbied for free bednets to protect against malaria. But a study of a free-bednet programme in Zambia showed that 40 per cent of recipients didn't use them. By contrast, a project to sell nets for 50 cents to mothers in Malawi by the non-profit organisation Population Services International increased the national average of the number of children under five using nets from eight per cent in 2000 to 55 per cent in 2004, and a comparable rise in use by pregnant women. The nets were bought by those who valued and needed them most.

Read the full article: Time for a grand re-think of grand aid plans

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