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The Busan HLF4: A promising partnership but will it result in change for the poorest people?

In November and early December 2011, government, civil society, private sector and UN delegates descended on Busan, South Korea to discuss aid effectiveness, and specifically how overseas development assistance can have a greater impact on development outcomes.

Save the Children attended this event, advocating for:

  • donors to reaffirm the commitments they made at Paris in 2005 and Accra in 2008
  • greater focus on the wants, rights and needs of poor people
  • more attention paid to the important lessons from the health sector
  • greater transparency and accountability in overseas aid.

As the dust settles, I take stock of what the 2011 Busan High Level Forum (HLF4) achieved, particularly for the poorest people.

A great success

The HLF4 was in many ways a great success (see our media statement).

It resulted in a new global Partnership for Effective Development Cooperation which includes many more actors than previous aid effectiveness agreements such as civil society and emerging donors like China, India and Brazil.

The Busan Partnership established a new set of common goals (such as partner country ownership, a focus on results, inclusive development partnerships), whilst encouraging the OECD DAC donors to reaffirm and implement previous aid effectiveness commitments.

By bringing so many actors together the Busan Partnership has the potential to kick start a truly global and coordinated approach to development, offering a good platform for the UN’s post-Millennium Development Goal discussions commencing later this year.

Aid transparency result

Perhaps the greatest strides were made on aid transparency.

The Busan Partnership document recognised transparency as a Shared Principle and specific commitment (paragraph 23), committing donors to “work to improve the availability and public accessibility of information on development cooperation and other development resources”.

Thanks to the leadership of countries like the UK, as well as the lobbying efforts of the civil society, by the end of the Forum many more donor governments and agencies had signed up to the Independent Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

As a result, information on more than 80% of all overseas development assistance will now be publically available.

Save the Children has been campaigning for improvements in aid transparency (see my previous blogs).

We estimate that the efficiency savings from donors signing up to IATI could vaccinate over 350 million more children.

Progress on fragile states

The Busan Partnership document recognised that meeting the MDGs is contingent on a better understanding of the unique and immense challenges in fragile states, as such it welcomed the New Deal for International Engagement on Fragile States.

However, a key issue which remains untackled is how to bridge the link between humanitarian and development financing in fragile states, and indeed humanitarian actors were largely absent from the Busan negotiations.

Falling short

On other issues critical to delivering key services for the poorest children there was a shortage of strong, time-bound commitments.

Our report Healthier Returns showed that using country systems, untying aid, and better coordination amongst donors would enable aid to make even more of a difference.

OECD analysis shows that just by untying aid, donors can improve the value by 15-30%.

But commitments made in each of these areas were weak. On untying aid actors only promised to ‘accelerate efforts’, pursuant to the Accra Agenda for Action.

In general the important lessons provided by the health sector (which was the official tracer sector for aid effectiveness reforms) were given little time and space within the official negotiations.

Indeed, health is entirely absent from the Busan Partnership document, in spite of healthcare telling us much about the dos and don’ts of aid effectiveness.

Ultimately the Busan Partnership — promising as it may be in some areas — will mean little if its commitments are not translated into actions.

Will it improve lives?

A robust international and national-level monitoring framework will be crucial to implementation. This framework is being developed over the next six months.

We’re calling on all development actors in Busan to remain engaged with this process. The monitoring efforts associated with Paris have taught us much, such as the necessity to focus on donor and partner activities at the country level and the futility of some of our current monitoring methods.

These lessons, as well as those from key sectors (see for example the work of International Health Partnership + Results), should be noted to ensure the Busan monitoring framework holds every actor to account.

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