søndag 2. desember 2012

Radiator Aid? No, thanks!


(Norwegians: Here is the original in Norwegian language)


Øyvind Eggen, PhD, Development Studies
Halvard Leira, PhD, International Relations

Norwegian Institute for International Affairs

The relief aid initiative Radi-Aid, asking Africans to donate their old radiators to shivering Norwegians, has received a lot of publicity lately (www.africafornorway.no). As Norwegians, we appreciate that Africans finally give some attention to the long-standing Norwegian heat-deficiency, in our view one of the forgotten crises of the world. Nonetheless, it is our duty as researchers to point out a number of problematic aspects. In fact, there are so many weaknesses in this this project that, for a while we were not even sure whether it was to be taken seriously.

One obvious problem is targeting. How to ensure that the heat is given to those Norwegians who need it most? We have not seen good baseline studies to guide the selection of beneficiaries and to ensure that the heat from each single radiator is utilized optimally. The project is also alarmingly weak in terms of gender sensitivity. We have all seen and heard of cases of men sitting near the radiator while the women work in colder areas of the house. Moreover, we doubt whether the Africans have sufficient knowledge of local contexts. Indeed, in Western parts of the country many Norwegians are more in need of an umbrella than a radiator during winter time. These problems are good examples why aid should be channeled through African NGOs with good knowledge of local conditions in Norway.

Governance matters
Even though Norwegians certainly do shiver at this time of the year we are not convinced whether Norway is the country that will benefit most from this project. Why has not Iceland been selected for the project? Once again, we have not seen good studies, but we assume this may be because Iceland has not demonstrated good governance lately. Inflation rates in Iceland recently reached almost 20 percent, and we often see that IMF discourages aid to countries with inflation rates well below that level. It is well known that aid is most effective if provided to countries with good macroeconomic performance. Indeed, to make sure aid is well utilized, it should preferably be given to countries with an economy as good as Norway’s or better. 

However, donors have long ago broadened their concern for governance into a much broader approach than merely economic performance. And there are certainly governance issues to be considered in Norway. Africans seem to have missed the fact that the current Prime Minister is the son of a former Foreign Minister, and he has already announced that he is seeking a third term in office. Africans, who benefit from modern constitutions, may find it surprising that this is generally accepted by local media and NGOs. But after all, the Norwegian constitution is almost 200 years old and has not been much modernized. Even its language is old fashioned. 

Since in this case we are discussing aid to the energy sector, it must also be mentioned that the sector is dominated by two large, powerful, parastatal corporations – one depending on fossil fuels, the other on hydroelectric energy (including a very controversial dam that involved forced relocation of indigenous people). The two seem to dominate the sector, at the cost of more development-friendly sources of energy. In such a context, we find it quite naïve to simply ship radiators into the country while not addressing governance issues and applying a broader approach to energy sector policy issues.

The importance of ownership
We are also concerned about the local ownership in this project. Without it, the likelihood of long-term results is weak. Imagine rusty radiators littering parks and road ditches throughout the country in only a year or two. Maybe they will be used as ski racks? The project may cause increased dependence on further aid, by strengthening a culture (of which we already see ample evidence) where Norwegians are too lazy to generate heat for themselves. Instead of helping, the project may make Norwegians depend on fresh radiators every winter instead of utilizing local heat resources. Once again, this calls for African and local NGOs to secure ownership and mobilize local resources. 

Ownership is of particular relevance in terms of marginalized groups. In international forums, Norway takes pride in their population of indigenous peoples. We do not believe it is coincidental that these are banished to the coldest areas of the country. Thus, radiator aid is of particular relevance to these population groups. And indeed, we view radiators as a very relevant form of aid, as it will help integrating the Saami in modern society, and make them less dependent upon environmentally destructive practice of burning local firewood. Any visitor to the highland plains in Northern Norway cannot avoid noticing that there are almost no trees left. Still, although radiators are potentially relevant, we have not seen that the Saami people have been participated in the planning of the project.

Good intentions, but poor results?
We would like to stress that heat aid aims at satisfying a need that is indeed real, and we appreciate the initiative to giving ordinary Africans a possibility to act in solidarity with Norwegians. Nonetheless, we see Radi-Aid as primarily rooted in an African charity regime where satisfying the donors seems more important than making sure that aid leads to sustainable development among the recipients. Perhaps will the project primarily serve as a door-opener for individuals seeking future top positions in international heat organizations in addition to generating increased sales for concerned artists.

One of the problems appears to be associated to the rigid UN goal of allocating 0.7 per cent of African heat as aid to colder countries. This worked well until a few years ago, when heat from Africa was primarily provided in the form of exotic dances and henna dye. With global warming we may see that the 0.7-percent-goal will lead to a rapid increase in heat aid that is not accompanied by increased capacity to plan and manage the heat flows. In that situation we may see more projects like this, well intended but poor planned. We fear that African heat aid may hinder more long-term, sustainable domestic heat development.

A broader approach
Awaiting more baseline studies and improved systems for planning, monitoring and evaluation, we must recommend a pause to Radi-Aid. We suggest instead a broader approach to the Norwegian heat deficiency. Africans see Norwegians shivering, but they do not ask why they shiver. The structural lack of heat is not fixed with radiators, but calls for fundamental strategies of fighting the cold. 

As a start, one cannot simply provide gifts. African donors must also build local capacity. Give a man a radiator, and he is warm until the next power cut. Teach a man to chop wood, and he is warm all winter.
Africa should also take a greater interest in governance and policy issues. This includes, in particular, the energy sector with a market that suffers from strong state dominance and heavy regulation, inequality in terms of economic and political resources, and dependence on non-renewable energy sources. But one should also consider broader governance issues, including democratization. In African countries, donors often threaten to reduce or withdraw aid if the head of state seeks a third period in office. We feel that African donors should consider the same ahead of the 2013 elections in Norway. Moreover, the soundness of the national economy, massively depending on the export of natural resources, should also be addressed.

Finally, heat aid should be seen as only a part of a more comprehensive African development policy towards Norway that goes beyond aid. Trade is also important. For instance, in a country where the government – tempted by huge profits from its own oil company – exports most of the oil instead of sharing scarce heat resources with its own freezing population, we expect that the rapidly growing African economies will show solidarity with the people of Norway by not buying Norwegian oil.

3 kommentarer:

Matze sa...

Thanks for this excellent critique of the project. Among the "fundamental strategies of fighting the cold" we're on a very good way. Polar regions benefit the most from global warming. We have to speed up CO2 emmissions so that your suffering can finally come to an end. This can only be achieved if Africa quickly develops so that it can properly consume and emmission CO2 like we do in Europe and N-Amerika.

Anonym sa...

I am concerned that this whole proposal undermines country ownership. It is for the Norwegian government to determine the priorities for Norway, not be distorted by the fact that giving radiators has become fashionable in Africa. African money should flow to Norway in ways which can be used flexibly as budget support. I see no reason why this practice - of Africans subsiding the wealth of Europe - should ever stop.

Dr Aliu Shadira sa...
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