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Rethinking Canadian Aid

 | 
Stephen Brown
, 
Molly den Heyer
, 
David R. Black

Section I: Foundations of Ethics, Power and Bureaucracy

Chapter V. Results, Risk, Rhetoric and Reality: The Need for Common Sense in Canada’s Development Assistance

Ian Smillie

Texte intégral

Introduction

1An outsider studying the websites of the world’s most prominent international development organizations – DFID, USAID, the World Bank, UNDP – could not fail to notice that the words “effectiveness” and “results” appear so frequently that they hint at some sort of problem. The same is true of SIDA, NORAD, DANIDA, and AusAID. The phenomenon was even more prominent on the CIDA website and it still exists on the “Development” pages of the new DFATD, located by clicking a tab on that site between “Trade” and “Assistance to Travellers.”

2Why the enormous emphasis on effectiveness and results? The international development community has always emphasized effectiveness, and before “results” the operative concept was “impact.” Even the “results” vocabulary is not new. It dates from the US Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, a bipartisan effort to change the way the US government was doing business (Brass 2012). The act requires that departments set performance goals and measure their success in meeting them, as opposed to budgeting solely in terms of inputs and outputs. A teaching result would be measured, not in terms of teachers employed or children taught, but in the results of that education: improved cognitive skills, better pass rates, graduation to higher levels of education, higher rates of employment, and so on.

3This seems like common sense, but in 1993 this was new to a development business that assumed impact, but often failed to make the necessary link between input (teaching), output (children taught), and a more meaningful and measurable result. There was an additional problem: Many aid programs did not actually have the sort of impact – localized or generic – that was advertised. That, in turn, made aid programs an easy target for critics with sharp pens – Peter Bauer, Michael Marren, Graham Hancock, Dambisa Moyo, all bestselling authors of anti-aid screeds.

4Many aid critics approach the topic from a shake-and-bake perspective that puts development, poverty reduction, and growth into the same pan in the same oven at the same temperature, predicting the same “results” in places as varied as China, Taiwan, and South Korea. Scott Gilmore, chief executive officer of an organization called Building Markets, provides an example of this: While aid programs “wallow” in ineffectual indolence, he says, “the most powerful force for poverty reduction is not development assistance – it’s local entrepreneurs. When they are given an opportunity to compete, they can transform even the poorest country … Entrepreneurs, not aid spending, are driving this growth” (Gilmore 2012).

5Like others, Gilmore equates economic growth with development, and development with poverty reduction. That sequence is possible, and in some places perhaps even likely. However, the words and the concepts are not synonymous, and in too many poor countries the economy has grown on little more than the coattails of an extractive industry. Gross domestic product growth and averages often mask a reality in which real improvement to the lives of those at the bottom has simply not occurred, while in many cases the disparity between rich and poor has grown.

6Markets are certainly a partial solution to development problems, but left to their own devices, they are not enough. This is a lesson Canadians learned a long time ago when federal and provincial governments created education and health care systems, social safety nets, transfer payments, and regulatory systems for investment, money, and banking. These, along with good and transparent governments that are answerable to the electorate, were and remain essential parts of our development.

7The answer to development is not one thing; it is many. The question is not whether the market is an alternative to aid, but whether aid can deliver on its part of the promise. The answer to that question seems not to be all that clear.

Lying with Statistics1

  • 1 How to Lie with Statistics (Huff 1954) is a terrific book on this subject, used in many university (...)

8The Economist, using World Bank data, recently stated that the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen in the past two decades by “almost a billion” (Economist 2013). We are now down to billion people living in destitution. This sounds like good news, but it is not – at least not the part about a reduction.

  • 2 The Bank confirmed that figure in its 1990 WDR, saying, “In 1985 more than one billion people, or (...)

9The problem is that the figures used by the World Bank a decade or so afterwards for 1980, 1985, and 1990 are not the same figures it used at the time. In its 1980 World Development Report, the World Bank said, “The number of people living in absolute poverty in developing countries (excluding China and other centrally planned economies) is estimated at around 780 million” (World Bank 1981). At the time, China had an estimated 360 million destitute people, so the global total was probably about 1.1 billion – the same as today.2 The fudging changed the definition of absolute poverty from an income of $1.00 a day to $1.25.

10In other words, hoopla, braggadocio, and revisionism aside, poverty has not been reduced by a billion. That is not to say there has been no progress. If that 1.1 billion number can be taken seriously, it represented 25 percent of the world’s population in 1980, and today it represents 16 percent. The world’s population grew, but the absolute number of destitute did not. That is encouraging. In fact, we know that absolute numbers have declined in some countries – conspicuously in Asia. That probably means, however, that absolute numbers have actually increased elsewhere, notably in Africa.

11So here is a second problem: Despite billions of dollars spent on development assistance, we seem not to have made much progress in reducing poverty. Where there has been progress – in places like China and other East Asian economies – it can be ascribed much less to aid and more to the phenomenon so beloved of aid critics like Gilmore and Moyo: the market. It is perhaps no wonder, then, that politicians attempting to make sense of their country’s aid budgets are demanding better and more evident results.

12Before we get to the issue of how the concept of results affects an aid program, a detour is required into a discussion about the purpose of aid. Go back to those websites for DFID, USAID, NORAD, and SIDA, and look at Canada’s ODA Accountability Act. All speak first and foremost in terms of poverty reduction. They always have. It was the basis for the 1969 Pearson Commission’s inquiry into why development assistance had failed to deliver on its promise up to then, and it was the basis of the subsequent Brandt and Brundtland reports, the 1990 Children’s Summit, the Millennium Development Goals, and a dozen other well-known and well-publicized commissions, panels, and targets.

Heading in the Wrong Direction

13The challenge in reducing poverty is often framed in terms of technique: the “how” of aid. That leads in due course to a discussion about results. However, the issue is not just one of technique. A bigger problem has to do with the diversion of aid away from its stated purpose into byways where no amount of technique will make it more effective. For more than half of the modern aid era, development assistance was as much about the Cold War as it was about anything else. Huge amounts of aid money were fed into the maw of governments led by – not to put too fine a point on it – criminals. These criminals did not misspend the money; the donors did by giving it to them. They did so knowingly, year after year.

  • 3 French aid to Mayotte in 2010 totalled US$603 million. Swiss aid to Sub-Saharan Africa that year t (...)

14The phenomenon did not end with the Cold War. The largest aid recipient by far in recent years has been Afghanistan, where donors’ strategic concerns overshadow everything else. Lashings of aid money still flow to countries with bad governments whose friendship or minerals a donor may want. Other kinds of politics play a role as well. Until it was removed from the DAC list of eligible countries, Mayotte (a French colony by another name off the coast of Mozambique) received more French aid than any other place on earth except the Republic of Congo – more in real terms, and infinitely more in per capita terms; more money, in fact, than Switzerland and Australia combined spent in Sub-Saharan Africa.3 Most donors have their own version of Mayotte, a favourite where largesse outpaces common sense.

15After security and politics, and sometimes before them, commercial interests loom large. Only a few years ago, China was Canada’s second-largest aid recipient, and it is still on the recipient list of several donor countries. A degree in rocket science is not required to figure out why. Canada recently shifted its aid priorities from Africa to Latin America, notably to Peru and Colombia, both middle-income countries where the Harper government was negotiating free trade agreements and where Canadian mining companies play an active role.

16If donors are serious about poverty reduction, one might think that a preponderance of aid would go to the poorest countries. Not so. In fact, only one-third of all ODA goes to the least developed countries and, if one takes Afghanistan out of that mix, the percentage drops to about one-quarter (OECD 2012).

17Much has been made in recent years of Canada’s generous untying of aid. Tied aid, of course, was a perennial problem in projects tied to inappropriate and expensive goods and services. The problem is that while Canadian aid is no longer formally tied, much of the connection to Canada remains unchanged, with a clear umbilical link to Canadian goods and services. Part of the tying has to do with the use of consultants and other forms of personnel, known in development speak as “technical assistance.” In 1969 the Pearson Report bemoaned the fact that some 20 percent of all ODA was being swallowed up by salaries and fees for external advisors (Pearson 1969, 182). Today the amount is closer to 13 percent globally, but for Canada in 2011 it was 21 percent (OECD 2012). Most of the 118 contracts over $10,000 signed by CIDA between January 1 and March 31, 2013 went to Canadian companies, consultants, and NGOs (CIDA 2013a). Much, if not most of it, by its very nature, never reached a developing country.

18Humanitarian spending should also be discounted or removed entirely from the effort to reduce poverty. Humanitarian response is essential in complex emergencies and natural disasters, but it is only tangential to long-term development. As a share of global ODA, humanitarian assistance has hovered in recent years around 10 percent of the total (GHA 2013). At 9 percent of ODA in 2011, Canada’s contribution was more or less typical (CIDA 2013b). Another amount should be removed from a calculation of Canada’s financial commitment to poverty reduction as well: the ODA-eligible imputed costs to the federal and provincial governments of supporting refugees during their first year in Canada. In 2011–12, Canada calculated this at $299.8 million (CIDA 2013b) or about 5.5 percent of ODA.

19So before we get to the question of results in terms of the stated aim for development assistance – poverty reduction – we need to think about how much money is actually available for the effort. To do this, we should heavily discount or even remove

  • ODA spent in pursuit of political, strategic, and security interests;
  • ODA spent in pursuit of commercial interests;
  • ODA spent on technical assistance;
  • ODA tied (directly or indirectly) to Canadian goods and services;
  • ODA spent on humanitarian assistance;
  • ODA spent on refugees during their first year in Canada;
  • the cost of administering the aid program, probably understated at $244 million in 2010–11 (CIDA 2013b); and
  • the cost of foreign student subsidies, estimated at $168 million in 2010–11 (CIDA 2013b).
  • 4 Moreover, if one thinks of the aid effort in global terms, the volumes are relatively small in rel (...)

20The point of all this is to say that if one wants results in terms of poverty reduction, one has to spend money in ways that demonstrate a contribution to the effort. A great deal of Canada’s ODA – perhaps half or even two-thirds – does not.4

21Now we can begin to talk about how an emphasis on results might affect the balance in terms of its impact on poverty reduction. Three major themes dominate the issue: planning, risk, and timing.

Planning for Results: An Obsessive Measurement Disorder

22In Canada’s aid program, planning for results has been elevated to an almost religious fervour: It has become highly complex, full of ritual, mystery, arcane language, and – despite all its scientific pretensions – a reliance on faith and a belief system that is passionately intolerant of dissent.

  • 5 Although CIDA no longer exists, it lives on in its systems and policy documents now found on the D (...)

23Before it disappeared, CIDA created a series of agency-wide systems that remain in place.5 The volume of paperwork on planning and managing for results has become enormous since 1993, with rules and forms and guidelines changing and piling up like snow on the Queensway during an Ottawa blizzard. Despite the herculean effort, CIDA still had a hard time explaining its results. The government’s report, Development for Results 2010–11, is almost exclusively about what CIDA did during the year: activities rather than results (CIDA 2011). Here is an example:

Today, with support from CIDA, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam Great Britain, and their local partners in South Sulawesi, coastal women and men are learning that restoring mangrove ecosystems – and their sustainable use – can generate long-term economic benefits. An important habitat for many fish species, restored mangroves will increase the output of fisheries and resilience to natural hazards. The forests will boost the local economy by increasing the production of raw materials, such as food, firewood, charcoal, medicinal plants, fibres, and dyes. CIDA’s support to the restoration, conservation, and improved management of mangroves will benefit more than 18,000 households in South Sulawesi between 2010 and 2015. (CIDA 2011, 4)

24This is not about results: it is about activities and what the plan hopes to achieve. The entire report is like that, although mostly with less precision.

25Behind this pretty but rather vague picture are a myriad additional forms, guidelines, and checklists. There is a “logic model template,” a “performance measurement framework template,” an “investment risk management template” a “How-To Guide” for results management at CIDA, and no doubt much more. The application guidelines for funding from the branch of DFATD that deals with Canadian “partners” (NGOs, universities, etc.) is forty-five pages long. That is worth repeating: the guidelines on how to apply for a grant consume forty-five pages.

26Andrew Natsios, former head of USAID, could be speaking about Canadian aid when he says that bureaucracies have “become infected with a very bad case of Obsessive Measurement Disorder (OMD), an intellectual dysfunction rooted in the notion that counting everything in government programs … will produce better policy choices and improved management” (Natsios 2010, 4). Some years ago, Henry Mintzberg, one of North America’s most prominent management gurus, wrote a book called The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning, in which he examined the success and failure of large corporations and found – in what he called the “fallacy of predetermination,” the “fallacy of detachment,” and the “fallacy of formalization” – that a lot of the received wisdom about planning was simply wrong. He spoke of the need to “loosen up the process of strategy formation rather than try to seal it off through arbitrary formalization” (Mintzberg 1994, 416).

27Centralized, top-down, rigid, paper-bound, and mostly conceived, prepared, and managed five or ten thousand miles from where the activity is supposed to take place, results-based management in Canada’s development assistance resembles nothing so much as a product of the Soviet Gosplan: an ideologically hidebound institution turning out good-looking but impossible plans, and results that bear no resemblance to their objective. In the Soviet case, pressure to meet Gosplan targets led to widespread falsification of data, which in turn led to new planning that was even more detached from reality. The same is evident in much of what passes for development assistance in Canada today.

Risk Avoidance

28Risk is a major consideration in the results world, one the aid establishment treats with almost unalloyed paranoia. The fear of failure – and of public discovery of failure – is in part what has driven the results agenda into its current planning pathologies. Better planning, it is assumed, will lead to fewer failures, even if “better” is only a euphemism for “more.”

29Three things happen in organizations seeking to avoid risk. The first is to put the money on safe bets. That is why so many aid agencies pile into countries that are “better performers.” This is not to suggest that countries like Ghana, Ethiopia, and Mozambique – where development results are more observable than elsewhere – should be ignored. Far from it. It is to say, however, that donor avoidance of the poorest and most fragile states hardly makes sense in terms of the stated overall objective of development assistance. The poorest and most fragile are precisely where the greatest effort in poverty reduction is required. These countries have the most difficulty in attracting sound, long-term foreign investment, and the most to gain from well-managed, targeted development assistance.

30Where Africa is concerned, not only has Canada assiduously ignored some of the poorest countries, it compounded the problem in 2009 when it shut down longstanding bilateral efforts in eight very poor African nations. It did this in the name of focus, a subject worthy of a separate rant, but even accepting that the concept of focus is legitimate and real, CIDA could have protected one or two its poorest partner countries and left a couple of the overcrowded “aid darlings” to others.

31A second type of risk avoidance has to do with the kinds of projects that are selected – invariably the safer and more measurable the better. This, Natsios says, “ignores a central principle of development theory – that those development programs that are most precisely and easily measured are the least transformational, and those programs that are most transformational are the least measurable” (Natsios 2010, 4). In other words, they are “least measurable” in part because they are about people rather than things.

32A third problem with risk avoidance in a business that is inherently risky, comes straight out of Gosplan central casting. Having planned a project to the top of the snowdrift, having filled out the “investment risk management template,” having written down all the operational, financial, development, and reputational risks, and having presumably either minimized these or shown how they will be thwarted, the project manager is left holding a can of worms. If something unexpected goes wrong – pretty likely in most development projects – and if there is no room for timely manoeuvring, the black cloud of failure looms just over the horizon. Things do go awry. However, in a rigid, results-based system, they are not supposed to, and if they do, it is often much more expedient to cover up the problem than to fix it. I defy anyone to go to the development website of DFATD, AusAID, the World Bank, or any other development organization or NGO – with the exception of Engineers without Borders – and find an admission of failure. Failure is endemic in the development business. This should not be a surprise. If we knew how to end poverty or create jobs for young Kenyans, or better governance in Congo, we would have done it a long time ago. Yet the aid establishment is incapable of saying this or of admitting to a failure.

33Some years ago, Dennis Rondinelli wrote a book called Development Projects as Policy Experiments: An Adaptive Approach to Development Administration (Rondinelli 1993). It should be compulsory reading for anyone who works in the field of development assistance. The title more or less explains Rondinelli’s thesis. Development projects are, by nature, experimental. If they work, they are no longer projects per se because they can be scaled up. Development projects are about learning, and one learns from mistakes as well as success. An essential point about learning, of course, is that if it is to be useful, a lesson has to be remembered, so mistakes are not repeated. Learning, however, especially adaptive learning, is a concept that is alien to the way results-based management is applied in the Orwellian world of aid “experts.” There, the only allowable outcomes are positive, and The Plan is the basis for everything, regardless of reality. The failure to learn from failure (because there is no failure) becomes endemic and, in the few cases where failure is either admitted or discovered, punishment – in the form of nofunding-next-time or career U-turns – is meted out accordingly. This is Gosplan in spades.

Time and Timing

34There is an important paper, perhaps a book, to be written about time and timing in international development assistance. The essence would run like this: Development does not happen on the basis of a development agency’s calendar. Farmers cannot wait an additional month to plant; sick people cannot be put on hold while Phase II is being planned. To paraphrase an expression from the judicial system, development delayed is development denied.

35That is about timing. The second part of the time problem has to do with the project cycle and a growing demand to see quantifiable results during the life of a project. That makes sense in bricks-and-mortar projects where hospitals, wells, and schools can be counted and photographed. However, in many projects dealing with health, education, agriculture, or governance, the real results – the development results – may not be at all evident in the short run. Even in hospital, well-drilling, and school projects, the result is not the thing; it is what the thing contributes to change. The real result is what takes place inside the school; it is about whether the well and the hospital result in healthier people. These will not be measurable the day the ribbon is cut. Demanding results within a project’s lifetime pushes the discussion away from transformational projects and true results, and back into the realm of outputs – like the self-congratulatory South Sulawesi Project described above, where the real results, if they occur, are still several years down the road.

36The third time issue is about how long it takes to get anything done. Because the aid community is so besotted with its planning mechanisms, so paralyzed by its risk avoidance and its fear of failure, it has added more and more steps to the planning and approval process, and these take ever-increasing amounts of time. CIDA/ DFATD, known for years to many recipient countries as one of the slowest of the bilateral donors, has in recent years become even slower. It can actually take as much as four years to get a bilateral project up and running (OAG 2009, 68–72). The underspending of its 2012–13 budget by almost $300 million is further evidence of the problem (Berthiaume 2013). It is not that there was nothing in the pipeline. The pipeline was jammed by the fear of failure, the demand for advance guarantees of results, the sheer bureaucratic weight of the results-based management system, and a perverse culture of micromanagement at the very top of the government’s Everest-like decision-making pyramid.

Conclusion

37Nobody should be surprised that foreign aid has not done a great deal to reduce deeply entrenched poverty. Most of the money has not been spent on that. Andrew Natsios could have been referring to Canada’s aid program when he wrote, “The command and control system for foreign aid programs is out of control … it is uncoordinated and undisciplined; driven by a set of dysfunctional regulatory incentives that focus oversight on the wrong issues; done in a highly politicized setting; and has become a major impediment to aligning good development practice with the best research on good development theory” (Natsios 2010).

38There is plenty of evidence, however, from projects where poverty reduction is front and centre that aid can and does work. The answer to change will not be found in submitting development planning to ever more draconian torture devices. Some of what needs doing is simple common sense:

For government

  • Observe the ODA Accountability Act. If the objective of the aid program is to reduce poverty, ODA must focus on poor people in poor countries and on things that will make a difference in their lives. If private sector development is deemed a solution, then whatever plan is developed should include verifiable indicators that will show it is delivering the intended results. If a project is about restoring mangrove ecosystems, do not report what might happen; say what really happened or leave it out until something has. If Canadian companies need help abroad, use trade promotion budgets, not ODA.
  • Decentralize. When he was President of CIDA, Marcel Massé tried decentralization, but it was costly; many senior managers at headquarters would not go to the field, and they would not let go either. When she was CIDA minister, Bev Oda promised to decentralize, but then she tightened the hatches until the pips squeaked. If one cannot put decision makers close to the shop floor, the product will always look like it came from Gosplan.
  • Cut the paperwork. Even the Auditor General – responsible for many of the problems inherent in the passion for results – has criticized CIDA for the incredible weight of its bureaucracy (OAG 2009).
  • Speed it up.

For all development practitioners, including contractors, NGOs, and government

  • Deal with risk, embrace failure, and learn from it. The problem here lies not so much in developing countries as it does with the media, politicians, and the voting Canadian public. Many Canadians no longer believe the hype, the endless success stories, and the revisionist data. Far too many think that “aid does not work” or “the money never gets there.” It is time to start treating the media, politicians, and the public like adults, finding ways to explain how inherently difficult development is, and letting them in on the importance of and the difficulty in ending poverty.
  • Get off the tarmac. This is an old Robert Chambers admonition (Chambers 1983). If decision makers want to understand something about development – and especially about poverty – they have to get away from cities and paved highways; they have to get out to where the problem is; they have to understand; and they have to empathize. It is a bit like decentralization, but it is the necessary extra mile.
  • Build knowledge. Some of this will come from getting people into the field and off the tarmac; reward people who can think; encourage discussion and debate; make development the priority rather than the command-and-control audit culture.
  • Remember. Knowledge is only useful if it is remembered and applied. Far too many people in the development business think the world began the day they arrived. Aid administrators have an obligation to learn from experience and to build on it.
  • Expand the time horizon. Serious development efforts take time. Do more ex post facto evaluations; re-evaluate some “successful” projects a few years after completion; think five years instead of two; ten years instead of five.

39Most of this is simple common sense, but in a world of development assistance where so little common sense is available, even some would go a long way.

Bibliographie

References

Berthiaume, Lee. 2013. “Hundreds of Millions in Foreign Aid Unspent Last Year, Federal Records Confirm.” Ottawa Citizen, November 1. Internet, http://www.ottawacitizen.com/business/Hundreds+millions+foreign+unspent+last+year+federal+records+confirm/9114155/story.html. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Brass, Clinton. 2012. Changes to the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA): Overview of the New Framework of Products and Processes. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.

CIDA. 2011. Development for Results 2010–2011. Internet, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/results2010–2011. Accessed November 8, 2013.

CIDA. 2013a. Contracts over $10,000; 2012–2013 - 4th quarter (January 1st, 2013 to March 31st, 2013). Internet, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/contrats-contracts.nsf/vQuarter-Eng?OpenView&RestrictToCategory=2012–2013-Q4. Accessed November 8, 2013.

CIDA. 2013b. Statistical Report on International Assistance 2011–2012 – Table A. Internet, http://www.acdi-cida.gc.ca/acdi-cida/acdi-cida.nsf/eng/NAT-319142528-PLZ. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Chambers, Robert. 1983. Rural Development: Putting the Last First. Burnt Mill, UK: Longman.

Economist. 2013. “Towards the End of Poverty.” The Economist, June 1. Internet, http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21578665-nearly-1-billion-people-have-been-taken-out-extreme-poverty-20-years-world-should-aim. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Global Humanitarian Assistance. 2013. Global Humanitarian Assistance Report 2013. Internet, http://www.globalhumanitarianassistance.org/ wp-content/uploads/2013/07/GHA-Report-20131.pdfhttp://www.global-humanitarianassistance.org/report/4216. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Gilmore, Scott. 2012. “Poverty Reduction Depends on Entrepreneurs, Not Aid.” Globe and Mail, January 26. Internet, http://www.theglobeand-mail.com/commentary/poverty-reduction-depends-on-entrepreneurs-not-aid/article4202336/. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Huff, Darrell. 1954. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton.

Mintzberg, Henry. 1994. The Rise and Fall of Strategic Planning. New York: Free Press.

Natsios, Andrew. 2010. “The Clash of the Counter-Bureaucracy and Development.” Washington, DC: Center for Global Development.

OECD. 2012. Statistics on Resource Flows to Developing Countries. Internet, http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/statisticsonresourceflowstodeveloping countries.htm. Accessed November 8, 2013.

Office of the Auditor General of Canada. 2009. Report of the Auditor General of Canada to the House of Commons. Ottawa: Government of Canada.

Pearson, Lester. 1969. Partners in Development: Report of the Commission on International Development. New York: Praeger.

Rondinelli, Dennis. 1993. Development Projects as Policy Experiments: An Adaptive Approach to Development Administration. New York: Routledge.

World Bank. 1981. World Development Report: 1980. Washington, DC: World Bank and Oxford University Press.

Notes

1 How to Lie with Statistics (Huff 1954) is a terrific book on this subject, used in many university courses over the years.

2 The Bank confirmed that figure in its 1990 WDR, saying, “In 1985 more than one billion people, or almost one third of the total population of the developing world, were living on less than $370 a year.” Ten years later in its 2000-01 WDR, it was still reporting that “Of the world’s 6 billion people, 2.8 billion – almost half – live on less than $2 a day, and 1.2 billion – a fifth – live on less than $1 a day.” Over the past decade, however, the Bank began to tinker with the 1980-2001 base. For example, “The Bank’s annual statistical report, World Development Indicators 2004 (WDI) … shows a drop in the absolute number of people living on less than $1 a day in all developing countries from 1.5 billion in 1981, to 1.1 billion in 2001” (emphasis added). In other words, the 1981 base had increased to 1.5 billion – and it kept rising thereafter to its current level of 1.9 billion. What remains constant is the 1.1 or 1.2 billion people living in poverty “today” (whether that “today” is 2013, 2004, 2000, 1985, or 1980).

3 French aid to Mayotte in 2010 totalled US$603 million. Swiss aid to Sub-Saharan Africa that year totalled $342 million and Australian aid totalled $190 million (OECD 2012).

4 Moreover, if one thinks of the aid effort in global terms, the volumes are relatively small in relation to the task. Global ODA in 2011 was $95 billion, with no discounts for emergency assistance or any of the political, commercial, and strategic alarums and excursions that are so endemic to the system. To put this apparently large number – aimed at reducing poverty in more than 150 developing countries – into perspective, one might compare it with the cost of the London Olympics ($13.7 billion) or the amount of money spent globally in a year on pet food ($55 billion), or the 2014 budget for the City of New York ($70 billion).

5 Although CIDA no longer exists, it lives on in its systems and policy documents now found on the DFATD website. I debated whether to use DFATD as the working acronym for this paper, but none of what I write about was created by DFATD, so I continue to use the CIDA acronym where common sense seems to apply.

Auteur

Has delivered telephone books in Montreal, carried bags at the Banff Springs Hotel, and taught high school students in West Africa and university students at Tulane University in New Orleans. He has lived in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Britain. He co-founded Inter Pares and was Executive Director of CUSO. Since 1983, he has worked widely as a development consultant and writer. He has written nine books, edited five, and has produced chapters for twenty-seven more. He is a leader in the campaign to end “blood diamonds,” helping to create the 80-government Kimberley Process Certification Scheme for rough diamonds. He chairs the Board of the Diamond Development Initiative and is a founder-member of the McLeod Group. His latest book, Diamonds, was published in 2014. Smillie was inducted into the Order of Canada in 2003

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