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2016: reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic

by Saira O'Mallie | ONE
Wednesday, 21 December 2016 08:56 GMT

A displaced Iraqi girl plays with a skipping rope in Khazer camp, on the outskirts of Erbil, Iraq December 4, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

While it’s tempting to have a pessimistic view of 2016, it wasn’t without positives for the world’s poorest.

Whatever your opinion on the events of this year, one thing is for sure: the world has dramatically changed. And while it’s tempting to have a pessimistic view of 2016, it wasn’t without positives for the world’s poorest.

In January, we learned that overseas aid reached its highest level ever in 2014, hitting $137.2. That’s $2 billion more than in 2013, according to the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

But this masks the bigger picture. Despite the increase, the world’s poorest countries received a smaller share of aid in 2014 than any time in the preceding decade.  Yet poor nations – aka least developed countries or LDCs for short -  experience the highest levels of extreme poverty and have the least ability to lift themselves out of poverty. LDCs, arguably, require aid the most.

International Women’s Day in March invited us to mark the progress in and challenges to achieving gender equality. Gender and development go hand-in-hand because, put plainly, poverty is sexist. If you’re a girl born into poverty you’re hit twice: once because of poverty, and again because of your sex.

World leaders were made aware of the issues thanks to the thousands of people who signed an open letter calling on them to act on gender equality; that so many hold a passion for this issue shows the arc of history curving towards progress. The situation for women and girls is improving; maternal mortality has dropped 46% since 1990. But there remains much more to be done.

London’s Anti-Corruption Summit (ACS) in May gave cause for cautious optimism in the battle against one of the biggest challenges to development.  France, the Netherlands and Nigeria all committed to Public Registers of Beneficial Ownership (PRBO), a list of those who really benefit from companies, and the UK made it mandatory for foreign firms owning properties to publicly declare their assets.

This will help prevent developing countries from losing $1trillion a year through shady deals.  But more needs to be done in 2017. Many countries and territories do not yet demand those setting up companies to reveal their identities allowing the corrupt to continue to hide their ill-gotten gains.

June’s UK/EU Referendum precipitated the change in Government and Priti Patel’s appointment as Secretary of State for International Development. She had once called for DFID to be scrapped but as with many of her predecessors, once in the job Ms Patel has seen how DFID saves and changes millions of lives for the better.

She announced more action to curb corruption by increasing accountability and transparency, and demanding UK aid is strictly linked to results.

And this she demonstrated in September when the UK pledged £1.1 billion the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria – but only if several conditions around transparency and effectiveness were met.  The fund reached its replenishment target of over $13 billion - the biggest replenishment of a multilateral organisation ever.

December 1 marked World Aids Day and the disheartening news that we’re ‘stuck in neutral’ when it comes to fighting this killer disease. Despite the great success of the Global Fund replenishment - global levels of funding have stalled, having not risen in four years. This is concerning because the window of opportunity to defeat the disease by 2030 is becoming narrower as Africa’s growing youth population reaches adulthood. The momentum witnessed over the past 30 means has seen incredible progress. Awareness is higher and stigma – though still very real – is lower. To lose the advances is unthinkable but the threat is real.

The end of the year has witnessed a media investigation of private contractors used by DFID to deliver UK aid. The revelations of waste and excess are of grave concern. They underscore the demand for someone who will scrutinise every last penny on behalf of British taxpayers, because UK aid is vital for our national interest, helping those who need the security, accountability, health care, education and fairness we cherish - our secure futures are co-joined. Some wish for her to speed up her overhaul, but Ms Patel has so far shown she can deliver on making sure taxpayers’ money is being used as intended – to end poverty.

As we leave 2016 and its seismic political shocks to history, we can look ahead into 2017 with cautious optimism.