Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Global Platform 2011 - Why is DFID ending aid to the UNISDR?

Earlier this year, DFID announced the results of two major aid reviews. The first, at the start of March, was the UK Aid and Multilateral Aid Review. The second, at the end of March, was the Humanitarian Emergency Response Review (HERR), conducted by Lord Paddy Ashdown. One of the key findings of the HERR was the importance of making disaster risk reduction (DRR) an intrical part of DFID's work, increasing anticipation, resilience and innovation. These are tasks in which geologists have the potential to play an important role. The HERR, interestingly, came after DFID announced earlier that month that they were ending their contributions to the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.

The core mandate of the UNISDR, as stated on their website, is to serve as the focal point in the United Nations system for the coordination of disaster reduction and to ensure synergies among disaster reduction activities. The UNISDR main work includes:
- COORDINATING and sustaining partnerships to build disaster resilience and promote disaster risk reduction.
- CAMPAIGNING to build awareness of disaster risk reduction and reduce communities vulnerability to the impact of hazards.
- ADVOCATING for greater investment in disaster risk reduction
- INFORM and connect people by providing practical services and tools.
DFID's justification for the decision to end funding was based upon an assessment of value for money, effectiveness, results, leadership and accountability. In the Multilateral Aid Review, it states:

"UNISDR has not performed its international co-ordination role well. Other more effective institutions such as UNDP and GFDRR are judged to provide better value for money and DFID will increase its funding to them. UNDP is central to the delivery of the MDGs and is at the heart of the UN development system and currently plays an important co-ordination role on disaster risk reduction at the national level. GFDRR is more effective at mainstreaming DRR and climate change adaptation in country development strategies.

The UK will still be a member of UNISDR as it is part of the UN Secretariat, but DFID will no longer provide additional voluntary funding. This funding averaged £0.9m between 2002 and 2010."

However, in light of the HERR, was this the right decision to make? I recently came across an interesting article by Dr Tom Mitchell, who works at the Overseas Development Institute, which discusses the possible reasons behind DFID's decision. In the article, Dr Tom Mitchell suggests a number of reasons for this decision, labelling them as either wrong, very unlikely or very likely. The suggested reasons include things such as... was it very expensive to the taxpayer, is DRR not a priority for DFID, is there a better organisation to take its place or is DFID following a global trend in ending funding - all of these were labelled very unlikely or wrong. The reasons labelled as likely are more related to the appearance of a 'co-ordinating agency' in an era of results and weaknesses in the Multilateral Aid Review process. Dr Tom Mitchell concludes with an assessment that this was the wrong decision, and a hope that the HERR will stimulate a rethink.

So these are the two sides of this debate, and I'm sure there are many other points that others could contribute to this discussion. Dr Tom Mitchell states that many in the field would recognise that the UNISDR has considerable shortcomings - so it seems clear that there is a need for reform and improvements, the key question is whether DFID short be withdrawing its funding, and whether that decision should have been made before the HERR? Disaster risk reduction needs to be a central part of the UK's development programme - its results are not always obvious, until after a disaster happens, but it has the potential to make a significant difference - it is preventative, rather than a cure... and that surely must be an important part of global development.

Any thoughts, comments, feedback very welcome.