NEW YORK , 19 November 2008 (IRIN) - As the global recession bites, analysts are asking if emergencies such as natural disasters will continue to receive funding while development aid, which could save many more lives long-term, such as agricultural investment in Africa, is left to languish.
The issue was addressed at the 15 November G20 meeting in Washington. The summit recognised "the impact of the current crisis on developing countries, particularly the most vulnerable" and reaffirmed the importance of the Millennium Development Goals, urging both developed and emerging economies "to undertake commitments consistent with their capacities and roles in the global economy".
But, as Lurma Rackley, public relations director of CARE, told IRIN: "Meeting emergency needs often means taking money, time and staff away from long-term sustainable development programmes.
"Yet such programmes, related to agriculture, economic development, civil society, gender empowerment, healthcare and other areas have the potential for lifting communities out of poverty," she told IRIN. "These are the very programmes that could help avoid the vicious cycle of dependence."
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is primarily concerned with complex emergencies and natural disasters, and immediate-response funding is a major concern.
"I would only hope that they [donors] would be able to differentiate the urgent life-saving aid and make sure that that was protected," OCHA spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker told IRIN.
However, "We are concerned that if there's a global economic downturn it could dampen the prospects for development assistance, which would be really bad, and for agricultural investment which, given the nature of the global food crisis, is part of the solution."
She noted that, as the crisis deepens, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has repeatedly stressed the overriding need to achieve the MDGs to cut hunger, poverty, maternal and infant mortality and lack of access to healthcare and education, by 2015. These long-term goals require billions of dollars annually in investment.
"In tough economic times when we're facing cutbacks, development programmes that aim to increase marginalised people's ability to earn income or improve their access to basic quality healthcare are not seen as 'life or death' issues, and thus are viewed as lower priorities," Dominic MacSorley, director of operations at Concern Worldwide, said.
"[Yet] 40 years of experience responding to some of the worst humanitarian disasters in the world's poorest countries have taught us that we must invest in long-term development if we have any hope of preventing emergencies and disasters in the future."
Impact on agriculture
David Roodman, research fellow at the Center for Global Development (CGD), a Washington think-tank, also foresees a greater impact on long-term investment in agricultural science, infrastructure, health and education, particularly in Africa. "[That] will suffer more than will emergency aid," he told IRIN.
"I would think that the big aid recipients in Africa - Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania - are probably going to see disproportional cuts, they'll take more of a hit."
The UN International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), established in 1977 after the 1974 World Food Conference to aid the rural poor, is aware of the danger. "This credit crunch risks limiting the flow of capital to long-term investments in sectors such as agriculture, just as this investment is urgently needed," an IFAD source said, requesting anonymity.
However, Episcopal Relief and Development is more optimistic. Robert Radtke, president of the international aid agency of the US Episcopal Church, told IRIN: "During tough economic times like these, it is always those with the least who suffer the most. Our donors are aware of this and have continued to support us through economic hardships. We predict continued support for our MDG Inspiration Fund and similar programmes in the future." The organisation gave $16 million to various causes last year.