International aid is a waste of money

Sub-Saharan Africa: “Criminal waste of money” by the EU Commission?

The British House of Lords sharply criticizes the EU Commission's drinking water and sanitation commitment in the sub-Saharan region. A letter to Development Commissioner Piebalgs speaks of waste of money, bureaucracy and ignorance. “The EU prefers people who write, write, write and do little,” confirms a Kenyan NGO.

According to the British MP, the EU Commission is practicing "a criminal waste of money" when it comes to promoting the supply of drinking water and sanitation in the sub-Saharan region Lynne Featherstone. In a letter to the EU Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs closes Lord Boswell, Chairman of the European Union Select Committee of the House of Lords, of Featherstone's assessment and sharply criticizes the commission: The successes achieved in development cooperation are disproportionate to the money invested - in the last seven years more than a billion euros worldwide in the water sector alone.

The letter bases its criticism on a special report by the EU Court of Auditors, which uncovered serious shortcomings in EU development aid: According to this, less than half of the water projects funded meet the needs of the population. At the same time, the majority of projects are not sustainable in the medium or long term.

Representatives of the Commission already commented on the special report on July 4th before the Great Britain Chamber - the House of Lords. The Commission representatives assured the Lords that the EU aid had been very successful: since 2004, the EU had given 39 million people south of the Sahara better access to drinking water and improved the sanitation of 16 million people.

The British House of Lords Committee, on the other hand, expressed its disappointment in what it considered to be the insufficient reaction of the EU Commission in the letter. The individual points of criticism were not considered carefully enough. With its failure in the sub-Saharan region, the Commission is damaging the image of the entire EU development cooperation.

The House of Lords praised the technical expertise of the ambassadors from Brussels, but at the same time regretted that no higher-ranking Commission representatives were present. It is feared that the neglectful way in which the Commission reacted to the criticism would allow conclusions to be drawn about the priority that Brussels is giving to drinking water aid. The subject had disappeared from the "political radar" of both the Commission and the member states.

Too important to be ignored

The sub-Saharan region will in all likelihood fail to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set for drinking water access and hygiene. Millions of people still die each year as a result of polluted waterborne diseases. The grievances are also hindering progress in other areas, such as the education of girls and women. Because women are still primarily responsible for the procurement of clean drinking water in traditional families. In order to get clean water, however, they often still have to travel long distances, so that they have less time, for example, for school visits.

As the population continues to grow, the competition for the precious resource of water is also increasing. A practicable and sustainable water supply is therefore essential for the development of the region.

Local engagement is key

Locally managed projects have the greatest chance of success. That is why the personal responsibility of those involved on site plays a decisive role right from the start. "Personal responsibility and involvement in the start-up phase are central," said Sabine Hiernaux-Fritsch, Head of Department at the EU Court of Auditors. "Churches that were not involved in the projects from the start more or less rejected them in the end."

In partnership with local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the EU could better reach the subsidized municipalities, according to the House of Lords. At the same time, the EU has only very weak local relations with such NGOs. This is because the EU selection processes favor large, international NGOs. Smaller organizations are better suited for many projects, but they often fail because of the high bureaucratic hurdles that EU funding brings with it. "The EU prefers people who write, write, write and do little," he said Josiah Omotto by the Kenyan NGO Umande Trust.

The British committee recommends that the EU Commission involve local project partners more closely. The procurement procedures would have to be greatly simplified so that smaller NGOs would also have a chance of winning an EU award.

Long-term financing is not secured

The sustainable financing of projects is crucial: If the water runs dry again after the end of a project with the aid money, the project was in vain. However, the long-term financing of the EU drinking water and wastewater projects in the sub-Saharan region is not secured, criticized the Court of Auditors. According to the Court of Auditors, the EU officials sometimes lack the "basic understanding" of where the money for projects should come from in the long term David Bostock across from the House of Lords. The EU Commission had "not dealt with this matter with the seriousness that was to be expected".

One financing option would be to ask the local people to pay for the services provided. For this to happen, however, a change in attitude must first take place among those affected, says an employee of the EU Commission. Not everyone is willing to pay money for clean water, others are simply too poor. "Poor people are often the most willing to pay - but at the same time they are the least able to do it," confirms Daniel Yeo by WaterAid.

WaterAid recommends that financing bottlenecks can be avoided by involving the private sector. With the support of the EU, small and medium-sized local businesses could make an important contribution to the sanitation and supply of drinking water.

The EU can do two things, states the House of Lords: With the Agenda for Change, create an investment and business-friendly climate locally and support local companies directly.

Partner countries should be accountable

However, sustainable structures can only develop and exist if they are supported by good governance and constitutional institutions. The partner countries must therefore give an account of whether they offer a suitable environment for the aid projects, demands the British Chamber. The corresponding conditions would have to be contractually safeguarded between donors and recipient countries - as would the consequences in the event of violations. If such agreements are not possible, the EU Commission will have to rethink its project award, so the British critics.

Last but not least, no matter how promising agreements made, if they are not properly scrutinized, they may be worthless. Projects must therefore be controlled and evaluated from the start. However, the monitoring by the EU Commission was "not exactly impressive," said Bostock. Is less reluctant Andrew Cotton from Loughborough University: "For some projects, the Commission did not know from the start who exactly would benefit from them, and in the end they did not know how many beneficiaries were actually reached." The Commission failed to set very basic quality standards.

Patrick Timmann


EURACTIV Brussels: British Lords blast Commission over water aid to Africa (August 1, 2013)

The Guardian: Lords lambast EU water and sanitation projects in sub-Saharan Africa (July 30, 2013)

House of Lords European Union Committee: Letter to EU Development Commissioner Andris Piebalgs

EU Court of Auditors: Special report on EU development aid in the field of drinking water and basic sanitation in the sub-Saharan region (2012)