A brief look: A government’s guide to asking for money – and getting it

By Simon Allison 1 September 2011

Ethiopia’s “Humanitarian Requirements” document is blunt to the point of rudeness: This is what we need, this is how much of it we need and this is how much it’s going to cost. Donors, make a plan. People are starving in Ethiopia, you know. By SIMON ALLISON

So this is how long-term, institutional aid works. The Ethiopian government types up a pretty little document with a glossy cover page (starring scrawny cattle walking through arid desert plains – even the cows are hungry, apparently), a nice contents list and lots of well-organised tables. The writing is tight and to the point; no melodrama, no sob stories, just cold hard facts which tell an ever-sorrier story.  This many people admitted to hospital for this disease, this many for that disease; this crop failed here, that crop failed there; this many people suffering here, and of that this many suffering thanks to avoidable “resource shortfalls”, which is development-speak for “we need more cash”.

Just how much is made unmistakeably clear with the clever use of bold type face. “The total net emergency food and non-food requirements for the period July to December 2011 amounts to USD  398,439,730,” the report reads. If you’re struggling to read that long line of numbers, that’s $400 million, or R2.4 billion. It’s not made as obvious where the money is supposed to come from, but the implication is clear: the humanitarian bodies which operate in the country must stump up the funds, and probably will.

Although unsettling, matter-of-fact forward planning like this is the reality of the aid industry, and it’s a big improvement on the reactive system which was used for so long. Money spent in anticipation of problems is spent much more efficiently than if it’s spent after the problem has happened.

Case in point: Somalia, where a little bit of foresight would have gone a long way to alleviating the famine and making it much cheaper to address. Ethiopia, on the other hand, avoided a famine this time, despite enduring the same drought, and it’s thanks to the precautions and plans – like this one – which the government and humanitarian agencies put together. iM

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Photo: Reuters


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