In the run up to the launch of the 2022 Aid Transparency Index, Richard Watts of Save the Children discusses how open data is being used to track aid to nutrition and hold donors accountable for their commitments. He explains that this is only possible due to continued improvements in the available aid data, but development partners could still do more to increase their transparency.
Nine years ago world leaders came together to commit to save 20 million children from malnutrition and prevent 1.7 million deaths, through the signing of the Nutrition for Growth (N4G) compact. What made this historic was not only the compact’s ambitious goals, but the $4 billion of funding committed up to 2020 to making those goals a reality. However, it is one thing to promise funding, but another to provide it.
Since then, therefore, a lot of attention focused on ensuring stakeholders who made financial commitments were held accountable for delivering on them. From the perspective of development partners, aid platforms like the OECD’s creditor reporting system (CRS) were essential tools for assessing their performance. However, the emergence of more real time data provided by international donors in a standardised open data format (using the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) Standard) has meant being able to understand development partner disbursements more effectively in year, and planned spending for nutrition into the future.
“The link between transparency and accountability of open aid data is now beyond doubt. Therefore, at this vital time, aid reporters need to step up and not back, as we chart a course towards 2030, in the hope of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals and ending malnutrition everywhere in all its forms.”
Whilst IATI data was already useful in times of relative global stability, recent crises and shifting aid priorities means it is now the go to tool to monitor aid to nutrition (and aid flows more broadly). As a case in point, Save the Children’s work to detail the UK government’s deep post-pandemic cuts to basic nutrition services centred on the use of IATI data, information that was then picked up by both the media and academia. IATI data has also been useful to showcase in real time other development providers who took an alternative approach to the UK’s, such as the World Bank, who have scaled up support to basic nutrition, understanding that it is a vital compliment to humanitarian aid and food assistance at this current point in time.
As we move into the future the importance of up to date and comparable aid data will only increase. Last year, at the follow-up N4G summit in Tokyo, stakeholders collectively announced an additional $27 billion in financial pledges to nutrition up to 2030. However, the current set of global crises means that specific nutritional services and those that support preventing malnutrition are needed urgently, not delayed for a future date. This means that transparent and timely release of high quality data by development partners is of critical importance to help ensure this happens. And whilst some data provided in the IATI Standard has been prompt and of sufficient quality to support accountability, the aid transparency index continues to highlight that many key reporters need to make improvements. In this regard development partners urgently need to step up in the following ways:
Ensure detailed and accurate project reporting to the basic nutrition code – including disbursements at least on a quarterly basis, and continual updates to budget.
Widespread and uniform reporting to the nutrition policy marker – using internal project design and monitoring processes rather than a separate coding exercise based on project names or descriptions. This would lead to both better mainstreaming of nutrition in project planning and implementation, and reduce burdens on reporting to the marker.
It has taken time for open aid data to become an essential tool in monitoring financial commitments to nutrition. However, as the data has improved, and the external environment has become more uncertain, it has come into its own. The link between transparency and accountability of open aid data is now beyond doubt. Therefore, at this vital time, aid reporters need to step up and not back, as we chart a course towards 2030, in the hope of attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and ending malnutrition everywhere in all its forms.
About the author
Richard Watts is a Senior Adviser on Development Finance for Save the Children UK. His recent work includes analysis of the UK aid cuts, and research focussing on nutrition as well as the IDA20 replenishment.