• Australian aid does a lot of good

    Posted by Ben

    27 February, 2014

    AusAID's 2012–13 annual report (and its last stand-alone annual report since it was absorbed into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade) was released late last week and there was lots to be happy about.

    Through our overseas aid program in 2012–13, we helped to:

    • Vaccinate more than 2.7 million children against deadly diseases
    • Provide safe water for an additional 2.2 million people
    • Provide basic sanitation and increased knowledge of hygiene practices to around 1.9 million people
    • Enrol an additional 1 million children in school
    • Train 100,000 teachers and school officials
    • Ensure more than 7 million poor women and men had access to social transfers (cash or food)
    • Train 200,000 public servants, as well as more than 22,000 police and other law and order officials
    • Support 27 countries to improve public financial management
    • Provide 11.8 million people with life-saving assistance during conflict or crisis situations

    I would say that for less than 1.4% of the federal budget, and just 35 cents in every $100 of our nation's income, that represents a great investment, as well as an expression of our basic obligation to help people move out of poverty and tackle global challenges.

    Australia's aid strategy of 2011 and aid policy framework of 2012 set out ambitious poverty reduction goals that we would measure the effectiveness of our aid contribution against to 2015-16. The good news is that we are still on track for achieving most of the goals set out there. However, the new report also shows that we are falling short in a number of areas – particularly in the areas of improving education and improving access to financial services for poor people. It is likely that the recent cuts and changes to the aid program will further compromise our ability to work towards these goals.

    I hope, though, that the goals themselves are not dropped. It is only as we set and work towards ambitious anti-poverty goals that the Australian public can be confident that our aid program is achieving the things we value – saving and improving lives and helping build a more just, peaceful and sustainable world.

    In that vein, too, I hope that future reports of aid effectiveness will also report on outcomes much more, and not merely the outputs of the program. That is, I hope to see more analysis of the actual impact of our aid efforts – for example the rate of reduction of maternal mortality where our aid is at work (not merely number of midwives trained or additional births attended by skilled birth attendants) or improvements in learning outcomes (rather than merely number of students enrolled) or improvements in food and income security for poor households (rather than simply number of people assisted).

    Micah Challenge supporters, and the wider public, are very supportive of aid activities, and – although we recognise that progress can be complex, long-term and does not always proceed seamlessly – we want to know about our aid impacts.

    The report has some wonderful strories of transformation and hope, and this one from the Philippines (on page 85) struck me as a particularly effective integration of education, health, sanitation, hygiene and community awareness-raising to improve education for poor children in Mindanao.

    Sittie Salik comes from the impoverished village of Linek in Mindanao, southern Philippines and is one of 11 children. With the limited income of her father from woodcutting and her mother from shellfish gathering and selling, the children need to help by making and selling hut roofing from palm leaves. Despite their collective efforts, most days the family eats only one meal. Most of Sittie’s older siblings did not finish their schooling. Poor health also affected Sittie’s ability to attend school every day. Her education was slipping. At 12-years-old, Sittie was only at the level of a Grade 3 student.
     
    But Sittie feels fortunate. Her school has become one of the first to benefit from Australia’s school health program, called the Essential Health Care Program. The Essential Health Care Program aims to combat malnutrition, intestinal worms and tooth decay—diseases prevalent among the public school population in the Philippines. The program uses relatively simple and cost-effective interventions such as daily hand washing with soap, daily fluoride tooth brushing, and bi-annual worming medication. Parents and the community help construct washing facilities at the schools, which increases their participation in the program. Australian aid provides low-cost kick-start material comprising toothpaste, toothbrushes and soap. To make the intervention sustainable, the program also assists local governments to develop plans to finance the program in the long term. Sittie’s poor health and school absenteeism was common. Now, thanks to her better health, Sittie is able to attend school and study for class. Australian aid is demonstrating that by improving hygiene, health and access to safe sanitation for children, attendance rates at school will also improve.

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    Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia.