Lords slam ‘seriously flawed’ EU programme for water and sanitation aid to Africa

29 July 2013

The House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on External Affairs is writing to the European Commission expressing its concern over ‘culpable waste’ in its aid programme for water to Sub-Saharan Africa.

The committee heard evidence from the European Court of Auditors that fewer than half of the EU projects ‘satisfactorily delivered results that met the beneficiaries’ needs.’ The auditors also found that projects failed most often because they were financially unsustainable in the medium to long-term.

DfID Minister Lynne Featherstone also told the committee that when it came to monitoring how well the EU funded projects were developing, the EU was “not really learning or progressing”. She added that the EU had failed to meet “the basic requirement” of putting systems in place to allow effective monitoring.

Other findings from the investigation showed that the EU WASH programme:

  • failed to engage with local communities and organisations;
  • involved too much red tape when projects apply for EU funding;
  • lacked a basic understanding as to how projects would be financed;
  • failed to ensure long-term financial stability for projects.

The committee has set out a number of recommendations to the Commission, such as ensuring projects are financially sustainable from the outset, and making funding more flexible and accessible for projects. Other recommendations to the Commission include the need to:

  • simplify and streamline its procedures;
  • create more innovative funding models that are flexible to the local organisations;
  • offer technical and administrative help for local organisations especially in relation to finance;
  • hold workshops to help local organisations understand EU grant processes and offer training on writing applications and mastering the tendering process.

In its letter to the Commission, the committee highlighted serious failings in the aid programme for water.

Committee Chairman Lord Tugendhat said:

“Given the scale of the WASH programme in Sub-Saharan Africa, with hundreds of millions of euros at stake, we were extremely concerned at the evidence we heard. Our inquiry revealed fundamental weaknesses in the EU’s approach to this problem, and we fear that the inability to deliver effectively in this region risks bringing the EU’s development assistance as a whole into disrepute.”

“Too much red tape got in the way of smaller organisations bidding for funding, the Commission showed a lack of basic understanding as to how projects would be financed in the long-term, and the mechanisms in place to monitor the success of projects were often lacking.”

“Although serious flaws have been exposed in this programme, we believe it is within the EU’s grasp to deliver WASH projects more effectively and with greater value for money. However, to do so the Commission must approach this task with more political will, vision, dynamism and imagination.”

A copy of the letter is available on the committee’s web page.

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