News / 28 January 2010

Both ENDS’ response to the WRR report

Like many in the field of international development aid, Both ENDS eagerly awaited the recent publication of the WRR (Dutch Scientific Council for Government Policy) report, "Less Pretention, More Ambition". Both ENDS was especially interested in the areas relevant to its own mission and core competencies, i.e. supporting civil society organisations working in the fields of ecological sustainability and social justice.

Policy Coherence
We are happy to see the WRR's standpoint that policy coherence will have more positive impact on developing countries than pure development aid. And, that the pursuit of a more equitable distribution of wealth and access to public goods is not just a job for the Ministry of Development Cooperation, but the entire Cabinet. As the report rightly states, preconditions are required if development aid is to have an impact. In Both ENDS' view, these preconditions are very closely related to strong policy coherence. We have always explicitly advocated a restriction of the (negative) impact of the economies of the Netherlands and other Western countries on the livelihoods of people in developing countries. Thus, extending a small loan (microcredit) to a small tomato grower in Uganda makes little sense when cheap subsidised Dutch tomatoes are flooding the Ugandan market.


Sustainable development
However, the report's recommendation of a technical approach to economic development leaves us with a sense of unease. It ignores the fact that a one-sided emphasis on increased productivity has significant negative impacts on the environment and very large populations in many developing countries, e.g. indigenous peoples and farmers who are dispossessed of their forest and farmland to make way for palm oil plantations and hotel resorts. It is vital that development aid actually creates opportunities for these vulnerable groups. Both ENDS and its partners see sustainable development as having an eye for humans and the environment, as well as economic factors. Landless farmers or mothers who can not find clean drinking water are not able to develop themselves.


We appreciated the report's comprehensive analysis, in which important observations were placed with reference to Dutch aid through bilateral and multilateral channels, via the NGO sector and industry. The report notes that its cooperation with civil society organisations is one of the strengths of Dutch development aid. However, it puzzled us why the report focused so heavily on NLAid, a planned special government agency. Such institutions are always in danger of becoming too isolated - with little influence on other dominant sectors such as trade and transportation. It is doubtful whether an organisation such as NLAid will be given the political space to build relationships with civil society organisations in developing countries. The report rightly recommends that the primary political debate must be about the quality of aid rather than percentages. Nevertheless, the report's own choice of words has given rise to a debate focused mainly on percentages. That said, the report is a worthy tool that can be used to reflect on the quality of development aid in relation to other sectors, such as trade, agriculture and the environment.


Danielle Hirsch and Paul Wolvekamp also wrote a reaction for the Dutch development magazine the Broker, read their reaction here.


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