Committee of Public Accounts

Press Notice No. 30 of Session 2002-03, dated 3 July 2003


Mr Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, today welcomed the successes of the Department for International Development in combating water poverty but said that the Department needed to improve its evaluation of the impact of UK funds.

Mr Leigh was speaking as the Committee published its 30th Report of this Session, which examined how the Department for International Development has sought to maximise its impact in the water sector. One sixth of the world's population lack access to safe drinking water and two-fifths of the world's population lack basic sanitation facilities. The Department is committed to contributing to challenging international targets to halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and without access to adequate sanitation facilities. In 2001-02, the Department spent £87 million on water related activities.

The Committee found that the Department should base its bilateral assistance in each country on a rigorous assessment of the country's poverty needs and, in individual sectors, should seek to encourage a co-ordinated international donor response. In 2001-02, the Department spent £1.5 billion on its bilateral aid programme. Its individual country aid programmes are framed by and supportive of the Millennium Development Goals. But it is unclear whether such decisions are always based on a thorough and timely assessment of poverty needs and, in the water sector, a full understanding of the approaches of other donors.

The Department should undertake explicit risk assessments and apply consistently the good practice criteria that are being developed to address the risks inherent in the provision of aid. The Department is concerned that its assistance is used effectively. Risk is inherent in the provision of aid, and different methods of disbursing aid create different risks which need to be managed. In particular, the Department is thinking about the safeguards needed to provide assurance on the use of funds provided through budget support, and needs to be able to demonstrate that good practice is being applied consistently and transparently. Specifically, it should carry out explicit assessments of the risks to UK funds; obtain robust and timely data on the use of these funds; and develop monitoring arrangements to evaluate progress towards poverty targets.

The Department should give greater attention to evaluating the impact of its assistance and to identifying the factors that increase the chances of sustainability. Achieving a lasting beneficial impact in poor countries is one of the Department's key aims, but there is a lack of evidence on the extent to which the Department's projects have achieved a sustainable impact. The Department should address the weaknesses in its current approach, by more frequent follow-up of projects; greater coverage of projects through ex-post evaluations; incorporating monitoring procedures from the project design stage; and tracking UK funds to assess whether they have had the intended impact.

Mr Leigh said today:

"Improved access to water and sanitation is a key factor in improving the health and economic wealth of the world's poorest people. The Department for International Development is committed to international efforts to tackle water poverty, and I welcome its successes.

The Department's aid programmes are designed to meet local needs. But I am concerned that the Department finds it difficult to ensure that the water needs of a country are given sufficient attention compared to other pressing aspects of poverty.

I am even more worried that the Department does not know enough about the longer term impact of UK funds, and the progress being made towards targets. There is an urgent need to develop monitoring, and ensure that project completion reports are carried out."

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