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Taking stock of 2010 and looking ahead to 2011

As we begin the New Year it is worth reflecting on what 2010 delivered in development terms, and what we expect to be focusing on in 2011. 

Looking back objectively 2010 does not qualify as a particularly standout year. There were plusses and minuses for development but no great breakthrough in areas of critical importance to developing nations – on climate change (despite the more positive mood in Cancun), on trade or on re-balancing the global economy post the global financial crisis.  Worries about a descent into a global currency war, increased protectionism and new draconian immigration laws in rich countries marred the end of the year and linger on as major concerns in 2011.  

Yet 2010 brought to a close a decade of significant development progress.  Charles Kenny, formerly of the New America Foundation, talked about the achievements of the decade in his article in Foreign Policy:  ‘If you had the choice in which decade to be born, there is only one decade you could choose, and it’s this one’.   While we may disagree with some of the hyperbole of Kenny’s piece, there is much evidence to back up the central claim that the first decade of the 21st century has been marked by real development progress.  ODI’s work reviewing progress against the Millennium Development Goals as well as looking deeper into the drivers of development progress across a range of different sectors and countries confirms that progress is happening and at a pace and scale that is above trend in many instances.  Our analysis of growth prospects across Africa, further adds to a picture of growing regional dynamism and competitiveness.  While the roots of such  progress extend back a number of decades and progress is far from evenly distributed, it is still the case that the last decade has seen major aggregate improvements in life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy,  and income. 

Other reasons to be positive, specifically about 2010, include:

But before we get too carried away with optimism, there have been real disappointments and some very serious setbacks to progress in 2010 that should leave us well and truly sober going into the New Year.   Most visible on the list is the continuing tragedy in Haiti, natural disasters in Pakistan and Indonesia, continuing conflicts in Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and escalating violence in Pakistan, the Middle East and the Horn of  Africa. But there are also the less visible tragedies: the collapse  in life expectancy in a number of conflict-affected countries and countries in transition, the scourge of hunger which afflicts over 1 billion people worldwide, the rising costs and consequences of gender-based violence despite rapidly declining gender differences in education and access to the labour market, the pressures of under-managed urban growth and the accumulating risks associated with increased market and climate volatility.  These pose major challenges to development in the coming years.

Looking forward to 2011 there are a host of issues to watch carefully. First up will be political transitions  in key places including Southern Sudan, Nigeria and Haiti. The stalled transition in Cote d’Ivoire is a particularly worrying way to start the year.  Then there is the impact of a rising oil price on global supply chains and land use for biofuels production, which may trigger another round of food price increases.  

Continuing global trends around urbanisation, inequality and the changing case-load of poverty from low- to middle-income countries will also impact on the way we think about poverty and poverty reduction strategies, as well as bringing risk and vulnerability back up the agenda.
Coherence (or lack of) in the global aid architecture will come under further scrutiny in 2011 at the Seoul High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness. There will be a push from traditional donors to carry on the work of the Paris Declaration but in the face of mounting criticism from other aid actors about lack of fit and an overly bureaucratic approach to aid effectiveness. In the UK we will see the launch of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, a bold measure to hardwire independent evaluation and accountability into the UK aid programme. We’ll be watching closely as it begins its work in the spring/summer of 2011.   At the same time there will be worries here in the UK and further afield about the potential dilution or politicisation of aid as security and development agendas become ever more closely fused .  The G20 will also be tested on its development action plan with campaigning groups continuing to press for more financing via G20 countries for development. Planning for COP17 in Durban has already begun in earnest – will 2011 be the year that a climate change deal finally transpires?

It goes without saying that development progress is neither linear nor evenly spread and there are major risks to be managed if progress is not to be derailed altogether in 2011.  But there are reasons to be optimistic, and this is a good start to the year.