World Water Day: In the Philippines, Country-Led Effort Toward Water Access
Photo by Flickr user likeablerodent
Feed the Future has the potential to be a major step forward in U.S. foreign assistance, but it is not the first effort to adopt a country-led development approach. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a U.S. government agency, uses a country-led approach in its work with developing countries. The MCC is widely regarded as one of the more innovative examples of U.S. foreign assistance, and it provides a compelling model for establishing a country-led development approach for Feed the Future.
MCC’s approach to country-led development puts participating governments in the lead on both program development and program implementation. To secure U.S. funding, or in MCC parlance to sign an aid “compact,” developing country governments are invited to propose projects that reflect their own development priorities. Partner governments are required to consult with key stakeholders in their country, including civil society groups, the private sector, and communities slated to benefit directly from the assistance. MCC is a partner in the process of developing the compact; its role includes ensuring that proposed investments have good potential to spur growth and reduce poverty, and that the government consults with stakeholders who will benefit from the compact and who can help make the program successful. Just developing and signing the compact can take one to two years.
Before governments submit a project proposal, they must conduct rigorous analysis to identify their country’s key barriers to economic growth and poverty reduction. Based on the analysis, they propose programs to help overcome these barriers, and MCC helps them select and design investments that show greatest promise for increasing incomes among beneficiaries. It’s rare for MCC not to help countries sharpen their proposals. MCC’s objective is not economic growth by any means that works—nor is it to support just any project that will help poor people. The agency will only fund investments that do double duty: stimulating growth and lifting people out of poverty.
An example of how MCC tries to make projects both country-led and successful comes from the Philippines. Water shortages in one district led the government to propose using MCC funding to build a system of reservoirs. Farmers in the district blamed their low productivity on a lack of year-round access to water. When MCC technical specialists analyzed the situation, they determined that the water shortages were caused by inadequate delivery mechanisms rather than storage capacity (which would have required the reservoirs). Thus, MCC did not change the problem identified by the community as a priority, but the solution was adapted based on MCC’s analysis of its causes. MCC’s strengths include its access to such technical expertise. Is this inconsistent with a country-led approach? MCC doesn’t see it that way. Rather, the process works as a partnership, with both parties working to identify the investments with the greatest potential for poverty reduction.
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