Does foreign aid help poor countries to develop?
Almost 60 years after the creation of modern development aid, this question still leads to a never-ending stream of publications. Questions about the effectiveness of development aid and weighing the different potential instruments against each other hide a number of fundamental questions. How useful is it still to talk about ‘the’ developing countries if this includes both conflict states and rapidly growing economies? What is ‘development’, how can it be stimulated and what role do people in the countries concerned have to play? What is the relationship between combating poverty and promoting development? Can institution-building in developing countries be promoted from outside, and if so, how? And how useful is it for a Member State of the European Union, which also participates in international organisations such as the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO, to hold on to its own development cooperation policy?
The WRR studied these questions, and concludes in its report Minder pretentie, meer ambitie. Ontwikkelingshulp die verschil maakt (‘Less pretension, more ambition. Development aid that makes a difference') that Dutch development aid is too fragmented and unfocused. To increase the effectiveness of its aid, the Dutch government should concentrate on ten countries with which it forges a long-term cooperation relationship. In doing so, the Netherlands should focus on areas in which it excels internationally and can offer added value, such as agriculture and water management.
Aid also needs to be more clearly focused on development. Self-reliance by both individuals and countries should henceforth be the explicit objective of development aid. This calls among other things for realistic expectations: development is dependent on so many factors that aid can make no more than a modest contribution.
The report was presented to the Minister for Development Cooperation on 18 January 2010.
Development aid should be targeted more at enhancing the development and self-reliance of countries. Policy should also be more clearly focused on major global issues such as stability and security, knowledge development and migration policy. These are the two lessons drawn by the WRR in its report Less pretension, more ambition.
The objective of development cooperation should be development rather than fighting poverty. Moreover, ‘doing better’ means less moralising, intervening in a more modest and pragmatic manner, less prescribing how things should be done and a greater focus on a tailor-made approach. Countries should follow their own development path and not ours.