The constraints on aid and development assistance agencies giving a high priority to basic needs
The objective of the thesis is to identify what constrains development assistance agencies giving a higher priority to ensuring that basic needs are met. Support for basic needs is taken to include all spending to address unmet needs in terms of water supply and sanitation, primary health care, primary or basic education and literacy. It also includes all development agency funding for housing, social employment and 'community development' projects targeted at low income groups. A statistical analysis of all project commitments for a range of development assistance agencies over a number of years showed that most allocate less than 20 percent of their funding to basic needs while some allocate less than 10 percent. This analysis also showed some evidence of increased priority to basic needs in recent years, especially for the concessional loan programme of the World Bank. Interviews with a range of staff from the World Bank, UNICEF and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and a review of these agencies' internal documents sought to establish the main constraints on an increased priority to basic needs. The constraints can be divided into four sets: the institutional constraints linked to an agency's internal workings; conscious policy choices made within the agency to limit funding for basic needs; external influences, including commercial pressures, consultants and influences from the governments that fund the agencies; and the political and institutional constraints within recipient countries - for instance recipient governments not prioritizing basic needs projects or their limited capacity to support basic needs provision. The thesis shows that development assistance agencies' own internal structures often constrain funding for successful basic needs projects. For instance, many basic needs projects are relatively cheap and staff intensive to develop but within most agencies, staff are under pressure to spend relatively large sums and to minimize staff time when doing so. Many agencies also have the institutional legacy of structures set up to fund large capital projects and difficulties in changing these structures to reflect new priorities, including a higher priority to basic needs. The incapacity of recipient governments to implement basic needs projects and, in most nations, the lack of alternative implementors is also a major constraint. The thesis emphasizes how research to date has given too little attention to these constraints. It also discusses the ways in which agencies are seeking to overcome these constraints and the need to do so if a renewed emphasis on poverty reduction is to be effective.