2020: A year of fundamental lessons for aid and NGOs?

2020 has been a challenging year for us all and, while nothing can make up for the devastating impact for so many, one of the positive consequences has been how it has forced us to rethink how NGOs and aid organisations deliver our objectives. Pump Aid is committed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the total eradication of water poverty by 2030, and in order to achieve this, we need to address the high rate of pump non-functionality in Sub-Saharan Africa.

In 2020, the arrival of COVID-19 made some of Pump Aid’s work impossible to deliver, so we pivoted activities and used our areas of expertise to deliver COVID-19 prevention work. By mobilising our network of trained mechanics and ensuring their local businesses delivered the water services their communities needed, we have massively increased access to water in rural Malawi at a time when handwashing and hygiene has never been more important.

While of huge benefit to these communities, our ability to be proactive and flexible in the face of a global challenge was also noticed by some of our major funders. In addition to allowing us to repurpose existing funding, many of them gave us additional funding to increase the number of pumps we could repair, the UK FCDO and DFID in Malawi among them. When these programmes come to an end in March 2021, the network of small businesses we have helped create will have repaired almost 900 broken community water points and will have restored life-saving water to over two hundred thousand people.

COVID-19 has affected everyone, everywhere, but its impact on the developing world has gone largely unreported in the UK, mainly because its worst effects are likely to be seen in the years ahead. The decline in GDP and the Chancellor’s cut in the aid formula, will see the UK’s budget for overseas aid drop by £4-5bn next year. While this decision has been largely criticised, it is a call for NGOs and charities to scrutinise what we are all doing, reminds us of our role to provide time-limited support to encourage self-reliance and independence, and acts as an opportunity to change the approach to international aid to one that promotes opportunities and no longer perpetuates dependency.

For too long international aid has been seen as a one way street, where the donor gives and the beneficiary receives. Pump Aid’s approach of developing local businesses and supporting local economies challenges this and puts us at the forefront of the change that must envelop the entire international aid sector, and we are proud to be part of this change.

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