A hell of a to-do list: 2014 in development

We may need it all
We may need it all

What’s in store this year for international development?

Here’s a bit of a preview, drawing from various publications (not very scientifically selected – mostly, those daring enough to make predictions). It’s also somewhat weighted to areas of my own interest – hence the Europe/Africa focus. (The great danger of the Internet: instead of widening your knowledge, you simply find evidence to back up your own theories.)

The debate on what replaces the globally-agreed Millennium Development Goals, to expire in 2015, started in earnest several years ago. There’s been almost as much focus on the process of defining the new goals (ensuring participation beyond governments), as on what they should actually contain. Now that – in theory – citizens have had a chance to give their input, 2014 will see formal, government-level negotiations begin (an overview of the process at Beyond 2015 or this infographic, here). Looking ahead at the challenges, ECDPM reminds us that while the merging of environmental sustainability and development goals has now been agreed, it’s not yet clear how – nor how all of this will be financed, and a lot of groundwork will be needed behind the scenes. Expect to see continued lobbying from all sides as the process continues. Not to mention continued pressure to achieve the current goals: will a last push, especially on the most off-track (e.g. maternal health or access to sanitation) take us to the finish line?

Aid effectiveness has been properly fashionable since the mid-2000s. And despite some breathing space this year on donor budgets, the focus on value for money is not going away, points out Devex (article under paywall). EU surveys find there’s still broad support for aid – with a growing number of citizens supposedly prepared to pay more for goods that support developing countries. But like everywhere, there’s a growing push to look beyond aid. The EU’s current policy (its ‘Agenda for Change’, is looking to divert more aid ‘through innovative financial instruments’ and ‘under facilities for blending grants and loans’; the role of aid, now, is also to ‘leverage further financing’. How will that play out?

New partnerships for sure – and that applies globally, with ‘the financial and intellectual capital of the private sector’ complementing ‘the deep knowledge’ of NGOs, hopes one Devex commentator. Sometimes aid agencies will be left out altogether, partly since doing business, at least in some African countries, is getting easier, says Ventures in their piece on what to watch out for on the continent this year. Vodafone and GSK, writes Devex, are working together to use mobile technology to increase vaccination coverage in Mozambique, while the Economist foresees a rise in businesses investing in the water sector.

Recent years have seen philanthropists increasingly brought to the table as ‘development partners’. The Gates Foundation just signed up to the International Aid Transparency Initiative alongside governments and other ‘traditional’ donors, which may alleviate concerns among traditionalists that foundations operate on different rules while wielding huge influence. Devex suggests keeping a close eye on the Bloomberg Foundation, now that its chief is no longer NYC mayor; I’m looking forward to seeing what emerges from Rockefeller’s Digital Jobs Africa – promising $97 million over seven years. And it would be great to hear more about the wealth generated in developing countries too.

Devex foresees a longer-term shift of focus from the BRICs (it’s all about the MINTs now, anyway) to fragile and insecure states – the home of 1.5 billion people. Let’s hope we stay focused. Last year, warns the Crisis Group, revealed ‘alarming deficiencies in our collective ability to manage conflict’. In the Central African Republic, for one, peacekeeping efforts won’t be much use unless we (who exactly?) commits long-term support for rebuilding. Rebuilding, of course, will be a huge task in the Philippines this year – will enough have been learned from Haiti?

UN Dispatch identifies some flashpoints this year: CAR, South Sudan and Syria, but also South East Asia and Mozambique. More gloom not just from the Crisis Group but also from South Africa’s Daily Maverick which highlights Somalia’s enduring fragility and Egypt’s violence, the desperation of migrants and the shame of the ICC trial that never was. (Happily, Daily Maverick also provides an alternative story: Africa for optimists.)

Watch out for more talk of drones too, suggest both UN Dispatch and World Bank bloggers – a potential game-changer for frontline reporting and humanitarian surveillance.

It’s both International Year of Family Farming and the African Union Year of Agriculture and Food Security, so expect to hear more from those sectors. The global campaigning group One, for example, will be launching ‘Do Agric’, a ‘call for an agricultural revolution in Africa’; Lawrence Haddad at IDS expects the focus on nutrition to build momentum. Let’s hope youth employment remains a priority too: the number of working age Africans will rise by a whopping 14 million this year alone, Brookings’ Foresight Africa report warns.

2014 also marks the start of a UN Decade on Sustainable Energy, while pressure will build yet further to reach a global climate change agreement by 2015. Major elections in donor countries may however distract attention – and prompt ‘more crap about “green crap”’, reckons Haddad; migration will no doubt become a political plaything too. All of these issues will jostle for attention alongside newer (in developing countries, that is) concerns like obesity and non-communicable diseases (e.g. more than half of cancer patients are now in less developed regions).

The future of development cooperation continues to plague donors, who are struggling to define their role in a context that’s about so much more than aid. ‘The poor will increasingly live in countries whose budgets may dwarf those of many aid providers’, writes Erik Solheim in a series of papers posted by the Global Policy Journal – look out for the full e-book out this April). The 4th Africa-Europe Summit – a meeting of heads of state and government every few years – takes place this spring: in the face of rapid changes on the African continent, will the summit succeed in redefining the relationship? ECDPM foresees tricky issues, including an October deadline to sign regional trade agreements that are still a source of bitter discord – while the EU remains internally preoccupied with forthcoming elections and a new Commission this year. Inside Europe, watch out for the build-up to a 2015 ‘year of development’ aiming to keep citizen support high for EU aid – whatever form it ends up taking.

Finally, there are some exciting possibilities for technology this year. The Guardian cites a few predictions: for instance, with poverty no longer a question of scarcity, developers will find a niche in improving targeting and distribution of services. Technology might be truly shifting the way assistance works, argues Devex commentator Bekele Geleta, but it doesn’t (yet) guarantee the ethics of our response. The uneasy, convoluted relationships will rumble on a while longer yet.

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