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The Reality of Aid Report 2020/2021: Aid in the Context of Conflict, Fragility, and the Climate Emergency

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1. INTRODUCTION

A triple crisis of poverty, inequality, and a climate emergency, compounded by a global pandemic The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed disturbing limits in global solidarity, particularly on the part of the international donor community. In a matter of months, the pandemic has exposed long-standing structural inequalities both within and between countries Despite some progress, COVID has increased vulnerabilities for millions of people, pushing many into poverty, in the context of the evermore-present impacts from climate change.

Faced with these compounding global challenges, there is an unparalleled and urgent need to maximize development finance, while focusing on the rapidly worsening conditions for poor and vulnerable people. Yet the evidence in this Report, and several parallel civil society commentaries, point to largely stagnant aid flows, an aid system with systemic ineffectiveness highly resistant to change, and a growing pre-eminence of donor economic and political interests in aid priorities. The recently published UN 2021 Financing for Sustainable Development Report warns that the pandemic could lead to a lost decade for development, noting that there is a sharply diverging and unequal world emerging from the lack of access to resources by poor countries and people to combat the crisis. Their report cites growing global systemic risks arising from inter-linkages between economic, social (e.g. health, inequality), and environmental (e.g. climate) conditions. World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Director, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus fears that the world is on the cusp of a “catastrophic moral failure.” Multilateral collaboration is limited, at best, in the wake of “vaccine apartheid” and the “me-first” northern allocations of vaccines. Heightened nationalism in several donor countries, as well as rising levels of systemic racism, are very worrying trends against the vision and commitments to a Decade of Action for Agenda 2030.

The immediate pandemic-induced crisis is deep and profound. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted the deepest global recession since World War II for 2020, estimating a contraction of 3.5% in global GDP. Prospects for global recovery are highly uneven and dependent in part upon equitable access to effective vaccines. Inequalities between countries are deepening. According to estimates, the real GDP for Sub-Saharan Africa fell by 2.6% in 2020, its first continental recession in 25 years. In April 2021, the DAC reported that aid from DAC donors to this region fell by 1% in 2020. By the end of 2021 this region’s GDP is expected to drop to levels not seen since 2008. It is estimated that it may take over a decade for a full recovery. The modest progress in reducing global poverty since 2015 has proven to be highly vulnerable to the impacts of the pandemic shocks. It is estimated that there was an additional 34 million people living in extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020. This is on top of a prepandemic total of 433 million people already deprived of the basics to support life. Together these numbers represent almost 44% of the people of the sub-continent by 2021. The expected deepening of poverty is not limited to Sub-Saharan Africa – it will be experienced across all regions of the world.

Two-thirds of the 225 million additional people predicted to be pushed into poverty (the $3.20 poverty line) are living in South Asia. More than 200 million additional people are likely to be reduced to poverty (the $5.50 poverty line) in East Asia. Considering the likelihood of greater inequality and uncertain growth prospects throughout the Global South, the World Bank analysts predict that these trends will continue in 2021 and perhaps 2022. In their words, “the only certainty in this crisis is that it is truly unprecedented in modern history.” The theme of this Report focuses on the interconnections between expanding conditions of “fragility” affecting millions of people living in poverty, the immediate and long term impacts of climate change, now compounded by a global pandemic.

Many of those most severely affected by the pandemic in the Global South were already living in fragile contexts and the “furthest behind”. This fragility has had several interrelated characteristics: 1) high levels of poverty and inequality; 2) the breakdown of key institutions; 3) systemic discrimination of ethnic and racial minorities; 4) high levels of violence against women and girls; and 5) political volatility accompanied by repression and narrow authoritarian regimes. These conditions are often further worsened by violence and conflict, as governments are either unwilling or unable to protect the rights of their citizens. Growing impacts from climate change are increasingly being felt in these same country contexts. Combined these factors paint a dire picture for millions of affected people across the globe.

The number of protracted humanitarian crises (lasting more than five years) has more than doubled in the last 15 years, from 13 to 31.

Over one billion people are living in countries affected by these long-term emergencies. The aid trends chapter in this Report examines aid trends for 30 of the most highly fragile and conflict affected countries where 38% of the population live in extreme poverty [Tomlinson, Global Aid Trends]. As the pandemic unfolds, time is also running out in tackling the climate emergency.

The climate and environmental crises are continuing to disrupt basic conditions of life on earth. Despite the commitments of the 2015 Paris Agreement, carbon emissions are projected to continue to increase. With the accumulated effect of each year of inaction, scientists are predicting that the 1.5°C Paris Agreement limit will be breached in less than a decade, and a catastrophic 3°C heating by the end of the century. Emissions dropped by 7% during the “great pause” of 2020, but to keep global warming to 1.5°C, these emissions need to fall by 14% each year up to 2040. The medium and long-term consequences of inaction are critical for the entire world, but particularly for poor and vulnerable people.

These impacts will be much deeper and more generalized than even the pandemic, which may be seen as a dress rehearsal for the potential for human rights violations unleashed by worsening global warming in the later years of this century. Vigorous social and political movements pushing for strong coordinated government action are more important than ever in meeting these intertwined crises. In recent months, international social movements and coalitions of youth, Indigenous Peoples, References in square brackets are to chapters in this Report. environmentalists, human rights activists and scientists are calling for a major paradigm shift.

These shifts are needed to build back a more just and equitable post-pandemic world. The political stakes are high and challenging.

Shifting economies and livelihoods towards a zero-carbon world is daunting, especially with the continued resistance by powerful corporate and private interests and their commitment to a carbon dependent global capitalism.

The responses by several governments to the pandemic in the Global North have demonstrated that major shifts are possible.

Notions of “affordability,” and what might be considered “normal,” are as much a political constraint as a financial one.
The costs for climate inaction are already being paid in the lives of many of poor and vulnerable people across the Global South. They are manifest in extreme weather conditions destroying their homes and productive infrastructure, in reduced availability of scarce water resources, crop vulnerability for millions involved in small-scale agriculture, and in the inundation of their communities from storm surges as sea levels rise.

According to the World Bank, impacts from climate change are life-changing for those living in fragile and conflict affected settings. Its analysis identifies the prospect of an additional 132 million people living in extreme poverty by 2030 due to irreversible climate change. By 2050 up to 140 million people could be forced to move within their own countries due to climate-induced disruptions to their livelihoods.

In 2019 over 70% of the internally displaced persons population was the result of extreme weather events and natural disasters, more than three times the displacements caused by conflict and violence in that year.

In this Reality of Aid Report 2020/2021 the civil society contributors examine the place of aid in responding to these global crises. How donors respond will shape development opportunities for the remaining years in the decade. How will donors address the widening and persistent state fragility and conflict in the lives of people living in poverty? What role will a deepening climate and environmental emergency play in these responses? How will current patterns of cooperation in the face of the global health pandemic affect development cooperation going forward in the next five years, and perhaps for the rest of the decade?

The 2020/2021 Report provides new evidence from CSOs, both in the South and the North.

They are writing on the role of aid in the convergence of fragile contexts, escalating impacts of the climate crisis and a global pandemic. Chapters critically examine the reform of aid in these fragile country contexts.

How are donors approaching the Triple Nexus, which calls for greater coordination amongst humanitarian support, development, and peace actions? In seeking a more holistic approach, the Triple Nexus has gained increased attention since the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and the 2019 agreement by all donors at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and c Real ODA is ODA reported to the DAC less in-donor refugee and student costs, debt cancellation and interest received for ODA loans.

Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) on a DAC Recommendation on the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus. Experience and issues in its implementation are elaborated through country case studies and thematic perspectives on peace and security, social protection and violence against women and girls.

As the climate emergency increasingly shapes humanitarian and development futures, several chapters look more closely at the priorities in international climate finance and their potential impacts on development prospects for vulnerable populations and communities.

Altogether this body of evidence accentuates the urgent call by the Reality of Aid Network for systemic aid reform. Can the pandemic be a moment of opportunity? Might the dramatic spread of COVID-19 change the future of aid?

Could it bring the needed transformations in development and humanitarian aid delivery that have eluded those seeking reform for the past ten years? The Report puts forward a number of recommendations for moving along these directions.