Long Read
22 April 2015

Budget cuts and CSOs: will the poorest be double duped?

Since 2010 the Dutch government has cut back 24% on Official Development Assistance (ODA), with the notable exception of a unique contribution to emergency assistance in 2014. In these four years inequality between rich and poor has increased, more than 50 million people have been forced to flee their homes and climate change puts more and more pressure on people’s food security.  While in the Netherlands, the consequences for civil society organisations (CSOs) are becoming clearer.

On Wednesday the 22nd of April a general debate about civil society will be held in the Dutch parliament. In the same week, the Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation, Lillianne Ploumen, has announced her new goals for water and sanitation: provide 30 million people with safe drinking water and 50 million people with sanitation. But are current investments sufficient to reach these new targets?

Financing of NGOs through policy spearheads

Minister Ploumen has announced several times that an increased part of the budget for CSOs will be spent through so-called policy spearheads.  These include special funds that have been created for public private partnerships (PPP) addressing food security and water. However, the uptake of these funds by CSOs has been limited by a short subscription period and a large project size (between 1 and 20 million euro). In addition it appears to be difficult to guarantee private financing at the start of a five to seven year project.

A review of the first two calls for a PPP fund called the Sustainable Water fund revealed that the projects submitted were primarily aimed at upgrading water infrastructure in cities. It appeared to be difficult to find sufficient PPP financing for other areas such as behaviour change, sanitation, irrigation and water management, especially in rural areas. As a result, the most vulnerable and marginalised communities are ignored.

A silver lining

However, the Dutch government still has good intentions. During the Global Citizen Earth Day festival in Washington, Minister Ploumen announced that she wants to provide 30 million people with safe drinking water and another 50 million people with sanitation. This is a worthy goal, particularly with the Sustainable Development Goals in mind. But how will these targets be reached? And how will Minister Ploumen ensure that sustainable health benefits will be realised?

Focus on poverty and cooperation with CSOs remains crucial

A realisation of long-lasting improvement to people’s health is only possible if Minister Ploumen intensifies her commitment to CSOs working on the water policy spearhead and implements an integrated approach on water, sanitation and hygiene. A policy review of the Dutch contribution to drinking water and sanitation in 1990-2011 showed that CSOs are strong in granting loans or subsidies to the most vulnerable parts of society – for example, women and girls in remote areas. The Dutch Minister responsible at the time for foreign aid, Ben Knapen, pledged to pay extra attention to the ultrapoor and to cooperation with CSOs. This commitment is as vital today as it was then.

We must not forget the results of this report. The cutbacks on development aid should not lead to a disproportional reduction on the budgets for CSOs, especially in water and food security, otherwise the poorest and most vulnerable people will be double duped.

A Dutch opinion piece about this topic has been published by our colleague Roel Blesgraaf.

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