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Does Aid Work?

In our sector, we’re often asked: Is aid effective? Does the money get to where it is really needed? Why is there still so much poverty in developing countries?

The short answer to these important questions is that most aid makes a positive difference most of the time. This does not mean every aid project works – there are failures and problems – but taken overall, the aid effort is contributing to real reductions in global poverty.

If we look at the widely accepted ‘headline indicator’ of child poverty – child mortality – we see that the number of deaths of children under the age of five has reduced from more than 12 million in 1990 to less than 8 million in 2009, despite massive population growth over that time.

Research confirms that much of the reduction in child deaths is attributable to vaccination programs, malaria prevention initiatives, trained birth assistants, more people accessing clean water and increased community knowledge about management of common childhood illnesses.

Similarly, the evidence is clear that more children worldwide are attending school and completing a primary education. Approximately 90% of children in developing countries are now enrolled in school. Even in very poor countries like Ethiopia, 90% has been achieved and improvements continue.

Nobody would suggest that every aid program is successful or that aid funds are well used in every instance. Corruption, wastage or bad program design are real dangers. Safeguards have to be in place.

For non-government organisations such as ChildFund we are able to direct funds straight through to our local office to support our work with communities. The funds don’t pass through governments or third parties. Spot checks and audits are undertaken. Monitoring visits by ChildFund staff are regularly carried out. At all times a zero tolerance approach to corruption is applied.

Despite the positive effects of aid and other factors, it is clearly the case that not enough is being done and progress is too slow. 25,000 children die each day from preventable causes. Progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (the internationally agreed poverty reduction targets) is well behind on most measures and many of the targets will not be fully reached by 2015.

It is deeply distressing to many Australians that so many children continue to suffer chronic poverty.

Sadly, the enormity and complexity of the problem means that global poverty is not quickly or easily fixed. There have been setbacks such as the global financial crisis that slowed economic growth and weakened wealthy nations’ contributions to aid. Also the global food and fuel crises that have kept families in poverty or created new pockets of poverty.

Realistically, it will take many years for absolute poverty to be eradicated. But the unsatisfactory rate of progress should not be used as a reason to give up.

There is clear evidence that aid works. It is within our power to eliminate global child poverty if a long-term, sustained and intensive effort is made.

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