Not a surprise that they are coming from Aid Watch, William Easterly’s blog. The first is a cry from the field in Nepal courtesy of Scott MacLennan. It’s a first-person anecdote that describes the result of many aid projects (I don’t have any percentages here and I’m sure if I looked I would find 30 different numbers). He describes a village he encountered with a brand new birthing center that, unfortunately, has no equipment and no staff…but it’s a very nice building. He continues:
Much of the part of Nepal where I work has phantom projects. Empty health posts and newly built birthing centers without staff or equipment are not uncommon. These are all development assets on someone’s balance sheet. The government counts them as part of its national health program. The international community has, at the risk of sounding too critical, for the most part been quite willing to allow this to go on. So long as the donors and the government can say they have this, or they have that, regardless of the reality of existence, everyone seems happy. The verification part of this industry thrives on the non-reality of it all.
He goes on to note that he plans to use his NGO to equip and staff the center himself and he will document this via photographs. His point that the size of the NGO is correlated to its ability to verify and audit its own projects is compelling. Is it accurate? I wish I knew.
The second post is evidence that I may need to, at some point, change the name of this blog for failing to adhere to its core principle of not being so damn cynical. I can’t help it though. It involves applying the “not test” to statements put out by the various summits, international conventions, etc. I will let Easterly explain:
This test checks whether it is possible to negate the statement and create a sentence that any sane person would utter in public.
If a statement fails this test, you can be confident that it means nothing. I plan to start using this with education organizations as well and will maybe post the results of these “not tests” in this space.