During September 2010 Guinea-Conakry is expected to conclude its first democratic elections since the military coup of December 2008. The coup prompted the suspension of all bilateral aid with the exception of humanitarian assistance and support to democratic transformation, by the country’s traditional major donors – France, the European Commission and the United States.
As an aid recipient, Guinea is uncomfortably stuck in the middle – neither a major humanitarian crisis, nor a significant or consistent aid recipient owing to its long rumbling political crisis. It is of course acutely vulnerable to shocks however, which can rapidly tip its fragile humanitarian situation across the threshold into emergency. In this critical period, when donors are reflecting on the aid priorities for a potential new democratic Guinea, we consider the country’s historic relationship with aid.
Guinea is fundamentally chronically poor and under-developed, ranked a miserable 170th out of 182 on UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Index (HDI) and with 87% of the population living on less than US$2 a day. Moreover, that poverty has deepened in recent years as the political and economic crisis in the countries has worsened, with Guinea sliding 14 places on the HDI since 2005. Only 30% of adult Guineans are literate, a startling statistic that provides an insight into the country’s profound and-long term development challenges.
Guinea’s health, nutrition and food intake indicators are slightly worse than average for the region and are comparable with its conflict-affected neighbours – but for the most part hover below emergency thresholds.
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Guinea experienced a major humanitarian crisis from 2000 when hundreds of thousands of refugees sought refuge from the wars in Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. Most of those refugees, and the humanitarian community that supported them, have now left.
Everyday levels of human suffering are significant for most Guineans, and they have deteriorated during the last five years with chronic malnutrition reportedly rising by around 50% and a quarter of Guinea’s 9.8 million people now moderately or severely food insecure, according to the latest World Food Programme (WFP) Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis (CFSVA). The results of the last nationwide nutritional survey (2007-2008) indicate that 40%of children under five years of age suffer from chronic malnutrition, 8.3% from acute malnutrition and approximately one-fifth of the children (20.8%) are underweight. But aside from the generalised daily struggle facing most Guineans, there is little that makes the headlines. This lack of attention to the country’s needs however, is partly a function of the absence of evidence.
The dearth of information about the real nature and scale of the needs in Guinea reinforces the negative cycle of low levels of funding resulting in a low capacity to measure, monitor and advocate for resources to address needs. The humanitarian community is relatively small and the capacity of the government to measure the needs is very weak. The humanitarian and funding needs represented in the UN’s West Africa consolidated appeal, the primary vehicle for fundraising, are determined at the regional level with little input from actors in country, who in any case, often have scant evidence of the scale and nature of the needs to offer.
The long-term under-investment in humanitarian financing has resulted in a weak disaster response capacity. UN agencies hold almost no buffer stocks in country, humanitarian air services ceased in June this year with no hope of further funding, and many donors have indicated they are unwilling to fund preparedness.
Guinea’s needs are chronic and multi-layered, inadequately measured and articulated and inadequately addressed by either humanitarian or development programmes. In a volatile political climate with weak disaster response capacity, this leaves Guinea acutely exposed to shocks.
Guinea as an aid recipient
Guinea is a difficult environment for development aid, which typically requires functioning state institutions to receive and direct aid flows. Development aid to Guinea is historically volatile, shrinking significantly in response to the frequent political crises. Aid volatility has a cost, creating negative income shocks that often impact economic growth.
A further aid shock, not yet captured in the available data on development aid, followed the military coup in December 2008, when many of the leading bilateral donors including the United States, European Commission and France suspended their bilateral aid. These donors have maintained support for humanitarian aid and in some cases activities supporting democratic transition but the reduced aid volumes are nevertheless significant.
While development assistance rose in 2007, there has been an overall steady downward trend in aid since 2001. Within the context of contracting aid volumes, the donor landscape has also become increasingly complex. The percentage share of total ODA from the leading five bilateral donors plus the World Bank fell to 55% in 2008 from an average of 70% (between 1995 and 2008). The percentage share of UN agencies and global funds, including the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, meanwhile, grew to 19% in 2008 (compared to an 11% average between 1995 and 2008). The total number of donors, many of whom give relatively small volumes of aid, has increased – from 31 in 2001 to 38 in 2008.
Funds for basic services are in step with the overall diminishing trends in aid. Donor contributions to basic education, water and sanitation have declined in volume from around 2003. Basic healthcare has fluctuated around relatively low level with an up tick in 2008, which is largely attributable to the effect of one new GAVI contribution of US$3.9 million, rather than indicating an overall rising trend.
Humanitarian assistance to Guinea has progressively fallen from a peak in 2001, which represents the rapidly scaled up humanitarian response to the refugee influxes from Sierra Leone and Liberia. By 2008, humanitarian funding levels had fallen below those in 1995.
The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has been an important source of funding for UN agencies in Guinea since the fund’s inception, under its ‘under-funded crises’ window, representing 22% of the total humanitarian assistance reported to the OECD DAC in 2008. In 2010, nearly a quarter (23%) of all the funding received for Guinea within the 2010 West Africa consolidated appeal at the time of its mid-year review came from the CERF.
While CERF funding has been extremely useful in maintaining funding for UN agency programmes in Guinea, it is not designed as a long-term funding mechanism. Furthermore, NGOs are not eligible for CERF funding directly, and received only 1% of CERF funds for Guinea, via UN agencies who were the primary recipients in 2009. Within an overall diminishing flow of humanitarian aid therefore, the share available to NGOs has contracted significantly.
Not only are funds for NGOs reducing in volume, they are also increasingly difficult to access. For example, funds from the French government, historically a significant donor, are no longer available at embassy level following the reform of French aid policy, with the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) taking over this responsibility from the Service de Coopération et d’Action Culturelle at the local embassy level. The AFD now allocates funding directly from Paris and the procedures for NGOs are complicated. Partly as a result of reductions in funding from private and small donors as a result of the financial crisis, NGOs are also struggling to meet the co-financing requirements of the European Commission, which is probably the most reliable funding source for NGOs working in Guinea.
Guinea is handsomely endowed with mineral reserves and has significant hydro-electric, agricultural and fisheries production potential. But for decades, it has lacked the effective governance needed to attract investment and manage those resources for the benefit of the population.
Humanitarian assistance is unique in that it is intended for people in crisis as distinct from those who are chronically poor for whom development assistance is considered the appropriate response. The chronic needs of many poor Guinean’s however, fall somewhere in the middle ground between the declining humanitarian assistance and volatile aid flows, with notable declining volumes of funding for basic services. Guinea, is neither a high priority for humanitarian donors, nor with its political crisis, an easy prospect for donors to channel development assistance.
Irrespective of the outcome of the elections, the Guinean state lacks the capacity and infrastructure to harness its domestic resources in the immediate future and will need sustained support from international actors both to build state capacity and to support basic service provision and livelihood provision for the benefit of the population.
Should Guinea successfully navigate democratic elections this year and development assistance resume, donors should not lose sight of the chronic needs of Guinea’s citizens in their rush to build and support the state. Irrespective of whether funds to address the needs of the population are humanitarian or development, or something else, better evidence of the scale and severity of the needs in Guinea is crucial to Guinea’s ability to secure funding in a highly competitive global aid environment. Finally, transitions are inherently uncertain, often fragile and prone to shocks and so donors will also need to ramp up investments in disaster preparedness and humanitarian response capacity.