The World Bank's Independent Evaluation Group has launched its Annual Review of Development Effectiveness. It is an honest, and somewhat depressing, account of what the Bank has achieved. According to the Washington Post:
Among 25 poor countries probed in detail by the bank's Independent Evaluation Group, only 11 experienced reductions in poverty from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s, while 14 had the same or worsening rates over that term. The group said the sample was representative of the global picture.
"Achievement of sustained increases in per capita income, essential for poverty reduction, continues to elude a considerable number of countries," the report declared, singling out programs aimed at the rural poor as particularly ineffective. Roughly half of such efforts from 2001 to 2005 "did not lead to satisfactory results." During that period, new World Bank loans and credits aimed directly at rural development totaled $9.6 billion, or about one-tenth of total bank lending, according to the group.
Comment: I suspect that many people will use this report to confirm their prejudices. If you are an aid sceptic, and you do not read the report carefully, you might conclude that this shows that the money spent by the World Bank is wasted. But this is not what the evaluation finds. It finds that many reforms of development assistance that are being implemented around the world are likely to be effective. The evaluation finds:
- growth alone is not enough: growth delivers poverty reduction more effectively when it occurs in sectors and regions where most of the poor live and work;
- satisfactory project outcomes alone do not ensure country sector impact: what matters is the long term development of in-sector and cross-sector strategies that complement each other;
- pressure to show results quickly can divert attention from the quality of results;
- achieving and maintaining results requires public sector institutions that are accountable to domestic stakeholders, not donors;
- the long time required to achieve many of the intended results underlines the importance of continuity and predictability of donor engagement;
- results depend on the commitment and ownership of recipient governments.
These recommendations are consistent with the progressive aid agenda, increasingly being implemented by the World Bank, DFID and some other development agencies. It is, however, an agenda that is sometimes under attack from sceptics of government aid, many of who minstead recommend a project-based approach, in pursuit of short-term, more measurable targets. This so-called bottom-up approach is often at the expense of the long term, cross-sectoral institutional improvements that really drive sustained and systemic change.
Finally, kudos to the Bank for publishing a thorough warts-and-all analysis of its weaknesses as well as successes.