Alex Evans

About Alex Evans

Alex Evans is a Senior Fellow at the Center on International Cooperation (CIC) at New York University, where he works on international development, foreign policy, and resource scarcity. He is currently working primarily on the post-2015 development agenda and future global climate policy, and also writing a book on psychology, myth and sustainability. He is based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Full biog here.

Beyond Aid: the future UK approach to development

Written evidence by Alex Evans and the Center for Global Development’s Owen Barder to the UK Parliament International Development Committee inquiry on the future of the Department for International Development and the ‘beyond aid’ agenda (September 2014).

Download Full Report

The future of DFID and the ‘beyond aid’ agenda

The UK Parliament’s Select Committee on International Development is running an interesting inquiry at the moment on the future of Britain’s Department for International Development, in particular in light of the ‘beyond aid’ agenda (terms of reference here). Owen Barder and I submitted a note to the inquiry last week, which you can download here.

We argue that if the world is serious about ‘getting to zero’ on poverty by 2030, then three key front lines for development will be fragile states (and parts of states), inclusive growth in middle income countries, and transboundary risks (especially those to do with unsustainable consumption patterns).

These three challenges have a lot in common. None of them was well covered in the MDGs; all will be crucial for eradicating the second half of poverty; all are about messy, long-term processes of structural change; none of them has an established playbook for how to address them; and while there are important roles for international spending in each case, none of them is primarily about aid.

Instead, we suggest, DFID will increasingly need to focus on beyond aid agendas both in country – where it will need to undertake significant changes to its existing skills profile – and across Whitehall, so as to influence UK policy on areas from arms sales, tax havens, drug prohibition policies, and anti-corruption, through to trade, subsidies, migration, financial regulation, and above all the global impact of British citizens’ consumption patterns.

We argue that in order for DFID to be able to influence this much broader range of policies, it is essential that it remain an independent Cabinet department, and not be re-merged back into the Foreign Office. (Doing that would just make a future Minister of State for Development within the Foreign Office comparable to the Administrator of USAID: running an aid programme, but excluded from most of the key decisions affecting development.)

But we also think that, since 2010, it is hard to make out much evidence of DFID playing this cross-Whitehall influencing role. Instead, it has focused mainly on securing and defending a substantial increase in the aid budget. This has potentially eroded the case for DFID to be a separate department – despite the fact that the Department’s voice is needed in Whitehall and internationally.

So, we conclude, policymakers and other influencers – in government, in Parliament, and in the wider policy community – should be pushing for DFID to play a bigger role in development policy. Conversely, the last thing they should be doing is caving in to the temptation to retreat to a less controversial space centred on aid administration.

The six fathers of ISIS

(As defined by Ziad Majed and abridged by Amir Ahmed Nasr in this excellent post):

ISIS is the offspring of more than one father, and the product of more than one longstanding and widespread sickness.
1. ISIS is first the child of despotism in the most heinous form that has plagued the region.
2. ISIS is second the progeny of the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, both the way in which it was initially conducted and the catastrophic mismanagement that followed.
3. ISIS is third the son of Iranian aggressive regional policies that have worsened in recent years.
4. ISIS is fourth the child of some of the Salafist networks in the Gulf (in Saudi Arabia and other states).
5. ISIS is fifth the offspring of a profound crisis, deeply rooted in the thinking of some Islamist groups seeking to escape from their terrible failure to confront the challenges of the present toward a delusional model ostensibly taken from the seventh century, believing that they have found within its imaginary folds the answer to all contemporary or future questions.
6. ISIS is sixth the progeny of violence or of an environment that has been subjected to striking brutality.

Ahmad Nasr also adds the observation that:

With the exception of reason #2, all other factors are local and traceable to the region and its state of affairs – affairs that have yes, been influenced by the legacy of European colonialism, the dynamics of the  Cold War, but lately much more so by the behaviours of local authoritarian actors.

Ebola: where is everyone?

The messages emerging from people dealing with the Ebola outbreak on the ground in west Africa are becoming more hair-raising by the day. Here’s the World Health Organisation’s assistant DG:

[It] is a scale that I think has not ever been anticipated in terms of an Ebola outbreak.

And here’s MSF’s emergency coordinator on the ground:

The number of patients we are treating is unlike anything we’ve seen in previous outbreaks. This is not an Ebola outbreak, it is a humanitarian emergency and it needs a full-scale humanitarian response.

For a good overview of the situation, this Foreign Policy article pulls no punches, stating bluntly that “you are not nearly scared enough about Ebola”, and also making the key point that the humanitarian impact of the outbreak extends far beyond those actually exposed to the disease:

I myself have received emails from physicians in these countries, describing the complete collapse of all non-Ebola care, from unassisted deliveries to unattended auto accident injuries. People aren’t just dying of the virus, but from every imaginable medical issue a system of care usually faces.

So what of the “full scale humanitarian response” that MSF says is necessary? Well, the World Health Organisation has just published an Ebola road map (pdf) that sets out detailed cost estimates for what’s needed to strengthen the response and contain the outbreak.

Their headline cost estimate is that just under half a billion dollars is needed, of which nearly $400 million would be for countries currently experiencing “widespread and intense transmission”, with the rest for response measures in countries with initial cases or localised transmission and preparedness in neighbouring countries.

Compare that with what countries have actually pledged and you start to see why MSF are sounding so pissed off. The United States’ last funding announcement was for $5 million, bringing their total contribution since March to just under $20 million – less than 4% of what WHO say is needed. Britain, meanwhile, has contributed £5 million over the entire crisis. And as of last month, the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund had given UNICEF and WHO the princely sum of… $235,000. (Compare this with the World Bank, which has pledged $200 million. But then, the bank is run by a medical doctor who has experience of infectious disease. Go figure.)

And what of NGOs other than MSF? No appeal has been issued by the Disasters Emergency Committee; at the same time, individual agencies are also keeping strangely quiet about the outbreak. Which is odd, because this isn’t just about humanitarian assistance – it’s also, as Kel Currah observed to me in conversation, a powerful opportunity for them to make the argument about why massive investment is needed to scale up entire health systems.

To return to a theme I’ve often blogged about before (most recently here on Eden 2.0), Ebola is a classic case of a shock that has the potential to open up a lot of political space to make the argument for doing more to help developing countries – but it all depends on the right influencers being ready to move swiftly to make those arguments.

But tell us what you really think

Disproving my belief that official think tank feeds rarely say much of interest, here’s a special moment on Twitter earlier today from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (or some hapless intern therein):

…swiftly followed by another tweet offering “sincerest apologies to @Amnesty & our followers” and the news that “we’re reviewing internal policies for social media”. Really?

h/t Andrew Exum

Why the multilateral system is stumbling on conflict prevention

Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, South Sudan – not to mention Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Gaza, or Somalia. None of them is exactly a poster child for the multilateral system’s capacity to address or prevent conflict. Richard Gowan has a great piece in World Politics Review this week (£) that offers a typically pithy (and pitiless) account of why the multilateral security system seems to be stumbling so badly:

It suffers structural weaknesses at three levels. The major powers at the apex of the system are in disarray, as the U.S. tries to limit its global commitments and China and Russia assert themselves. Middle-sized powers that want to undercut the system are exploiting these top-tier tensions: While Moscow and Washington have sparred over Syria at the U.N., for example, Saudi Arabia and Iran have fought a proxy war on the ground.

At the bottom of the global ladder, a mix of predatory governments, rebel movements and terrorists have taken advantage of the troubles higher up. As I noted at the start of this year, embattled and autocratic leaders from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to South Sudan’s Salva Kiir have concluded that they can have more to gain from using force against their foes than submitting to international mediation. In the Middle East and North Africa, groups such as the Islamic State are profiting from the resulting conflicts.

Richard’s last point, on the opportunism of those at the bottom of the global ladder, certainly chimes with an experience I had a few months ago: sitting in the lobby of the hotel in Addis Ababa where the South Sudan peace negotiations have been taking place, I overheard two negotiators sitting at the next table chuckling gleefully at how the international community’s focus on Ukraine had taken the pressure right off them to reach a deal with their opponents.

All the same, as Richard concludes, it still matters that:

…a mix of international officials and observers, soldiers and governments remain willing to stand up for the vulnerable and do what they can to uphold that system. Perhaps the system hasn’t completely flopped in recent crises. A fairer if less pithy assessment might be that the system is indeed failing, but it still does enough good to be worth fighting for.

 

Data revolution, meet deforestation

You will need: Some satellites. Google Maps. Trees. People. Some money.

Method:

  • Grab satellite data on forest cover.
  • Make it super hi-resolution - all the way down to 30 square metres.
  • Overlay it onto Google Maps.
  • Update it every ten (ten!) days.
  • Mash it up with boundaries of national parks and logging concessions, so that illegal logging shows up immediately.
  • Enable automatic area alerts.
  • Proactively offer funding for access to legal redress to local groups via the Access Initiative.
  • Stir well.

Your Global Forest Watch is now ready. Nice going, World Resources Institute.

YouTube Preview Image