Sanitation in Zambia
Five years ago, the government of Zambia partnered with The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) in a $355 million push to improve water and sanitation in Zambia. MCC, a U.S. foreign aid agency, has been providing aid and oversight to this Southern African nation since 2012. The expectation was to improve the living conditions of as many as 1.2 million Zambians.

MCC’s investment in Zambia is coming to an end soon, though. With the compact set to expire in November of this year, the government will have to forge its own path to ensure that the progress made since 2013 will continue to be maintained and built upon.

The Need for WASH

Access to proper water, sanitation and hygiene (often referred to together as WASH) is vitally important to the development of any nation. Contaminated water and poor sewage facilities can lead to outbreaks of diseases like cholera and diarrhea, which can be crippling or even fatal. Lack of access to a convenient water supply can also force caregivers (often women) to spend hours each day drawing water from crude wells.

These concerns and others continue to be relevant in Zambia. Cholera outbreaks have spiked in the country this year due to a lack of WASH facilities. According to UNICEF, only 19 percent of rural populations have access to basic sanitation services. In urban areas, the number increases to a still shockingly low 49 percent.

Zambia’s population is growing rapidly. Following the trend of increasing African urbanization, nearly half of Zambians live in cities like the capital of Lusaka. The majority of those urban citizens live in low-income areas, most of which do not have developed sewer systems.

The Impact of MCC

MCC’s compact with the Zambian government was designed to address these problems head-on. The money it provided was put toward several major infrastructure projects, many of which are focused in Lusaka. The key focus has been improvements to the city’s sewers and a new drainage system, which will protect a million citizens from flooding.

In the long run, these investments should improve access to clean water and sanitation in Zambia. Beyond the personal quality of life benefits these improvements provide, they will also protect businesses from the danger of floods and help reduce the time needed to gather water. Reductions in sicknesses like cholera will also benefit both public health and economic productivity.

Safeguarding the Future

While MCC’s compact with the Zambian government is coming to an end, there are signs that its success may be carried forward after November. To begin with, MCC only invests in governments that show a genuine desire to better the lives of their citizens and the ability to properly use funding.

MCC’s goal is always to work in close collaboration with governments in order to ensure that they pass along the know-how to keep improvements running long after they leave. They have done just that in Zambia—training local water and sewage companies how to better manage their operations, consider environmental impacts and educate the public.

The projects started by MCC will not all be finished in November, but government workers and companies in Lusaka and around the country will be better equipped to continue making progress toward improved sanitation in Zambia.

It’s also important to note that Zambia will not be alone in pressing forward. Organizations like Water & Sanitation for the Urban Poor (WSUP), The World Bank and The African Development Bank are all providing funding and expertise for further WASH projects.

Zambia faces many challenges, but the government is taking ambitious steps toward bringing improved WASH standards to the entire country. The government will continue to focus on Lusaka, where they hope to provide city-wide sanitation services by 2035.

Joshua Henreckson

Photo: Flickr

10 MCC Transparency Measures
Created by the U.S. Congress in 2004, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency. The agency has strong bipartisan support and helped revolutionize how the U.S. delivers foreign assistance.

MCC works by giving out time-limited grants to partnering countries, which broadly go toward “promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and strengthening institutions.” But for each of its compacts and programs, MCC specifically reports what is being spent where, by whom and with what results. In other words, MCC is dedicated to transparency.

10 Ways MCC Maintains Transparency

  1. Maintaining an easy-to-use and up-to-date website: An easy-to-use website makes it easier for the public or other agencies to navigate the site. An up-to-date website ensures that people are accessing and consuming new and relevant data.
  2. Expanding the Evaluation Catalogue: The Evaluation Catalogue shares studies, evaluations and data sets in a searchable database that is open for public consumption. MCC is working to increase the efficiency of the accompanying approval process and release information to the catalogue more quickly.
  3. Releasing Principles into Practice: Principles into Practice is a long-running series of reports in which MCC discusses in detail how it implements its core model and operation policies. These reports include frank discussions of failures and lessons MCC has learned. The agency also has an edition dedicated to MCC transparency.
  4. Using sub-national data and geo-coding: Gathering more detailed and location-specific data provides a better picture of MCC’s spending and results. Location-specific data can also help MCC compare data from different areas and increase its efficiency.
  5. Upgrading information management systems: Updated information management systems help MCC improve the accessibility and usability of its data internally and in partner countries. MCC also funds an analytics team to standardize and deliver data to staff for internal analysis.
  6. Having a Data Governance Board: MCC recently created its Data Governance Board, an independent group made up of representatives from throughout the agency. The Board’s purpose is to streamline MCC’s data management approach and promote data-driven decision making across the agency’s investment portfolio.
  7. Ensuring data consistency: MCC pulls all of its data sets from the same base data, ensuring consistency across data sets. Consistency allows MCC and anyone else to compare data sets without having to control for differences in collection or calculation.
  8. Adding new data and information fields: MCC has expanded its data fields relating to results, and the agency gets higher marks from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) for performance data than any other agency. MCC has also expanded its information to include conditions associated with MCC funds. MCC is very invested in data collection and uses it to inform program development processes, such as pricing data.
  9. Working with implementing organizations to compile data: Like most U.S. aid agencies, MCC’s programs provide funds for projects that are implemented on the ground by partner organizations. MCC works directly with those implementing its projects to collect and publish data.
  10. Reporting directly to IATI: Like other U.S. aid agencies, MCC used to report its data through the Department of State. Now, MCC reports directly to IATI, giving MCC greater control over what, how and when they publish.

ATI and MCC Transparency

Transparent aid is especially important to donor and recipient governments. For example, MCC transparency ensures that it and other donors avoid duplicating efforts in some areas and under-funding in others. Recipient governments also need to know what aid is invested in their countries to coordinate their own budgets with incoming aid and make the most effective use of their limited money.

MCC began participating in the Aid Transparency Index (ATI) in 2013 and was actually ranked the most transparent agency in the world its first year. Rankings consistently change between years, and while MCC has not remained number one, the agency is consistently among the top five transparent agencies in the world.

MCC was once again ranked as the most transparent agency in the U.S. Government for 2018. Ranked fifth overall in the world, MCC is one of only seven agencies in the top “Very Good” category. Transparency is essential for aid effectiveness and accountability, and MCC’s ranking shows that the agency is committed to disclosing detailed material about its activities.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr

poverty in Sri Lanka
Poverty in Sri Lanka has seen a decline from 22.7 percent in 2002 to 6.1 percent in 2012-13. However, the Northern and Eastern provinces of the country have not yet experienced much change. The places most affected by poverty are Mullaitivu at 28.8 percent, Mannar at 20.1 percent and Batticaloa district at 19.4 percent.

The Role of Millennium Challenge Corporation

Like in many developing countries, poverty in Sri Lanka has been declining, but the pace of decline has been very slow and irregular. One of the primary ways in which the government tries to reduce poverty is by focusing on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and improving job opportunities for people.

Today, many world organizations assist developing countries in realizing their goals. The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is one such organization working towards alleviating global poverty. The group is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency which grants financial assistance to developing countries in order to help uplift them.

Process of Selection

The process of selecting the country eligible for a compact, large-scale five-year plan is done based on a 20 point criteria laid down by the organization. Only countries that practice good governance, work towards the welfare of the citizens and fulfill at least a minimum number of those set criteria are eligible to receive grants. MCC assists such countries in the development of various sectors like transportation, education, housing and so on.

The focus of MCC is to enable developing countries to achieve the SDGs and thereby reduce poverty. The organization started operating in 2004 and has so far signed compacts with 29 countries around the world.

MCC’s Role in Alleviating Poverty in Sri Lanka

In December 2016, the organization selected Sri Lanka to receive foreign aid after noting that the country passed 13 out of the 20 indicators on MCC’s policy scorecard. In June 2018, MCC advanced its partnership with Sri Lanka confirming its unswerving support in helping the country prosper and flourish. Caroline Nguyen, the Managing Director of MCC for Europe, Asia, Pacific, and Latin America visited the country from June 11th to 13th to finalize the proposed MCC compact which aims to reduce poverty in Sri Lanka.

MCC’s focus is on investing in land and transport projects of the government of Sri Lanka. The proposed compact aims to systematize the interregional movement of goods and people, regulate traffic congestions and help develop a more organized land administration.

MD Nguyen signed an agreement with the U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission, Robert Hilton, at the Ministry of Finance granting $2.6 million as financial aid for the same. This is in addition to the $7.4 million which was granted in July last year. Nguyen told The Sunday Leader “We are pleased to partner with Sri Lanka on a program that will reduce poverty through economic growth and improve lives in the country.”

Future Direction

Robert Hilton, the Deputy Chief of Mission, told the Asian Tribune, “the Millennium Challenge Corporation compact is an important part of the U.S. government’s commitment to work as partners with the people of Sri Lanka to support sustainable development throughout the country.”

The finalized MCC compact will be presented to the MCC’s Board of Directors for approval by late 2018. The organization assures it will fund the compact entirely through grants (which do not need to be repaid) rather than loans — a sustainable start to a bright future.

– Shruthi Nair
Photo: Flickr

Indonesian Sea SaltSea salt farming almost always occurs in warm climates with little precipitation, such as in Indonesia. Sea salt is harvested from shallow ponds called salterns through natural solar evaporation. As water evaporates from the shallow ponds, the salt in the water becomes more concentrated. When the water reaches about 25 percent salinity, the salt starts to crystallize and it can be harvested.

Indonesian Sea Salt Farmers

Wealthier sea salt farmers have access to technology that reduces the need for manual labor but most Indonesian sea salt farmers have to do everything themselves. Just getting seawater to the salterns requires Indonesian farmers to spend days carrying the water by hand from the sea.

Farmers with access to technology use trucks with rake attachments to break up the salt beds but many Indonesian farmers have to rake the salt beds manually. Indonesian farmers then have to scoop up the salt and carry it to washing facilities. After the sea salt is washed, farmers have to boil it to produce pure salt. To boil the sea salt, Indonesian farmers have to carry large containers of salt on their heads to open, smoky stoves.

Sea salt farming has a long history in Indonesia but other agricultural economies such as cashews, cacao and coconut palms took precedence and stalled the sea salt economy. Indonesian sea salt saw a revival in 2005 as demand for gourmet salt rose.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation

With the rise in demand for sea salt but little improvement in the technology available for Indonesian sea salt farmers, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) made an Indonesia Compact. The MCC is an independent U.S. foreign aid agency that partners with countries worldwide to promote economic growth and lift people out of poverty. With strong bipartisan support, the U.S. Congress created the MCC in 2004 and the MCC signed the five-year Indonesia Compact in 2011.

The MCC’s Indonesia Compact went into force in 2013 and ended in April 2018. The Compact’s three initiatives were:

  1. The Community-Based Health and Nutrition to Reduce Stunting Project
  2. The Green Prosperity Project
  3. The Procurement Modernization Project

Aid for Indonesian sea salt farmers fell under the Green Prosperity Project which sought to increase agricultural productivity and to improve land use practices and management of natural resources.

The MCC worked closely with the Indonesia-based NGO Panca Karsa to communicate with sea salt farmers on the ground. By introducing piping to get seawater to salterns, improving filtering techniques and even just providing farmers with wheelbarrows, the MCC and Panca Karsa have helped sea salt farmers increase the quantity and quality of their salt production, boosting the farmers’ incomes and making their businesses more sustainable.

Panca Karsa reports that salt yields have tripled in the last couple of years and prices have doubled due to improved quality. In the past, most of the farmers were only able to sell their salt in bulk at local markets or trade their salt for rice. The MCC and Panca Karsa also helped farmers improve packaging, labeling and marketing and now farmers’ salt is competitive in artisanal and niche markets globally.

Sea Salt Farming and Female Empowerment

Most of the labor-intensive work of sea salt farming in Indonesia is done by poor women. These women do not generally own the land they work on and many only take home about $2 per day. Before the MCC and Panca Karsa intervened, these women only retained about 50 percent of their hard-earned production. Now, these farmers report that they retain about 60 percent.

Besides training programs for salt-making, financial management, business planning, quality control and marketing, the MCC and Panca Karsa also offered monthly community meetings to raise awareness for maternal and child health and nutrition. The organizations helped get families access to health and other services and worked to improve gender relations by engaging households in task-sharing between men and women.

In just a few years, the MCC and Panca Karsa have helped train over 400 female sea salt farmers and entrepreneurs in Indonesia, making it possible for these women to expand their businesses and support their families.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr

AGOA and MCA Modernization ActThe African Growth and Opportunity Act, or AGOA, was passed into law by the 200th Congress on May 18, 2000. The bill was renewed up to the year 2025 in 2015, during the Obama administration.

The primary purpose of the AGOA legislation is to establish a new trade and investment policy for sub-Saharan Africa, along with expanding trade benefits to the Caribbean Basin. The bill greatly improves the access that sub-Saharan African countries have to the U.S. market.

AGOA seeks to expand U.S. aid to regional integration efforts made by sub-Saharan Africa, strengthening and building upon the private sector in the area, particularly with small businesses and industries owned by women. Encouragement of investment and trade is emphasized by AGOA legislation, as it is indicative of economic development and increased participation in the political process.

To qualify to receive the benefits of AGOA, these countries must follow a set of standards included in the legislation. The eligibility standards include improving its rule of law, following core labor standards and meeting human rights goals. In addition, an acting president has the authority to take away AGOA benefits from any country if it is deemed that a country is not continuing to meet the requirements for eligibility.

“AGOA is AGOA and not just about trade – it’s a relationship framework as I like to say – strategic, military, trade, aid, investment… any costs associated with trade are merely that, minor overheads,” said South African economist and creator of the AGOA.info portal, Eckart Naumann. “The U.S. would be foolish to tamper with this, or withdraw benefits.”

Naumann believes that AGOA has become vital to the interests of the United States along with sub-Saharan African countries. He says that Congress would most likely push back against any efforts to restrict it. U.S. companies and consumers benefit from AGOA due to free-market principles taking effect with both sides profiting from it, and the legislation helps create jobs.

Currently, Congress is considering the AGOA and MCA Modernization Act. The legislation serves as an extension of AGOA, and it promotes policies that foster trade and cooperation while also aiding eligible partners of AGOA. In addition, the AGOA and MCA Modernization Act seeks to create a website that details the benefits of the program, give the Millennium Challenge Corporation more freedom to facilitate trade by permitting up to two compacts within one country and strengthen the accountability of the MCC by making the criteria for reporting requirements stronger. The Millennium Challenge Corporation, which was created through the Modernization Act, provides large-scale grants to help create economic growth opportunities in developing countries eligible for AGOA.

The AGOA and MCA Modernization Act was introduced to the House of Representatives in July as H.R. 3445 and to the Senate as S. 832 in April. Both the House and Senate have not yet made the decision to pass or reject the legislation.

– Blake Chambers

Photo: Flickr

Indonesia Compact investment
The U.S. foreign aid organization, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), invested $600 million in economic stimulus to reduce poverty in Indonesia that entered into force in 2013. The MCC forms five-year compact grants for countries that meet eligibility criteria and displays “good governance, economic freedom and investment in their citizens”.

According to the MCC, the Indonesia Compact consists of three projects, which aim to facilitate the increased quality of “health and nutrition, sustainable land and energy management, and modernizing the system of government procurement of public goods and services.”

To assist with the goal of “sustainable land and energy management,” part of the Indonesia Compact is the Green Prosperity project. This project accounts for $332.5 million of the Indonesia Compact investment funding, encapsulating efforts to expand economic conduits while decreasing emissions of greenhouse gases. Indonesia’s elimination of fuel subsidies has been positive and growth is expected to reach 5.5 percent in 2017. The regime’s ability to set fuel prices, however, is still a point of concern, as cited in a June 2016 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Another part of the Indonesia Compact is the Community-Based Health and Nutrition to Reduce Stunting Project, which is a child and youth-based initiative aiming to decrease incidents of malnutrition that impact Indonesians across 5,400 villages. The World Food Programme cites that the nation loses more than $5 billion per year due to lost productivity as a result of malnutrition. An investment of $134.2 million of the $600 million is going towards the Community-Based Health and Nutrition to Reduce Stunting Project.

The World Bank notes that 37.2 percent of children under the age of five experience stunting. These developmental hindrances are pivotal to providing transparency into the double burden of malnutrition. Paired with an increased risk of developing non-communicable diseases like heart disease, stunting at a young age can reduce productivity beginning in adolescence.

The MCC has allocated $65 million of the Indonesia Compact investment to the Procurement Modernization Project. The goal of this project is to strengthen the country’s public procurement system. The OECD reported that provinces and districts in Indonesia are spending 40 percent of total public funds, a rate of fiscal decentralization higher than any other East Asian country apart from China.

The compact also accounts for inequality by the implementation of the Social and Gender Integration Plan (SGIP) that ensures equal opportunity across genders and social structures for those participating in compact programs.

Amber Bailey

Photo: Flickr