This is a sample question from Godefroid B. in Kinshasa.

Avatar2I’m a journalist from DR Congo. I hear that my country has received over $2.5 billion in ODA in 2012. How can I know where all this money went? More specifically, I want to find out which organizations are getting funding in the field of maternal, newborn and child health, how much, where and to do what.

This is a sample answer from Michael Medley in Chiangmai

MichaelMedley100x100In response to your question I’m going to do the following:
1- check your premiss (over $2.5 billion in ODA to DRC in 2012) with the OECD website;
2- see how far OECD data can go in answering the rest of your question;
3- do the same with IATI data (the International Aid Transparency Initiative);
4- consider some other channels of research.

Let me warn you from the start that I know of no magic bullet for getting the information you want. But I can show you some resources which will help in obtaining a partial answer.


1. Getting definitive ODA data from OECD

The definitive source of information on ODA money flows is the OECD. It is definitive because the OECD created and defines the term “ODA”. ODA is given by OECD members, and they have to report to the OECD on it. There are other kinds of international aid too, but your question did not ask about them, so I won’t deal with them here.

So I begin with the OECD website. Actually, the OECD website is big and complicated. It presents ODA data in many different places. There are at least two routes to the data we want, but the signposts from the homepage are not very clear. So I will help you jump to two alternative starting points for database access:

  1. OECD.Stat (www.stats.oecd.org): a more conventional search interface which presents complicated options up front.
  2. QWIDS (www.stats.oedc.org/QWIDS): a search wizard which backgrounds some of the highly-specialized options.

For our purposes, QWIDS is probably more suitable.

By querying QWIDS, I found that the amount of ODA for DRC in 2012 was USD 2.847 billion. So yes, the starting-point of your question seems to be correct.

The following video shows how I got this result using QWIDS.

2- What can the OECD data tell us about where the money went?

When OECD members and multilateral agencies report how much ODA they give, they break it down by project and include some project details, including codes for the sector or type of activity. We can change our query in QWIDS to look only for Health sector ODA, or only at expenditure coded for Reproductive Health Care (which may be close to our interest in “maternal, newborn and child health”). And then we can call up a table of all the reported projects meeting those criteria. Here’s how.

So what OECD/QWIDS has now told us about ODA for DRC in 2012 is:

  • About USD 415 million was for the Health sector
  • An additional USD 152 was spent on Population Programmes/Policies and Reproductive Health.
  • Within the latter, USD 15.7m was coded specifically as Reproductive Health.
  • It seems likely that many general Health projects may include Reproductive Health work
  • Details of the activities within each project are often sketchy or lacking. Some project details may reveal locations of work and precise objectives, but many do not.
  • Some of the organizations receiving the funds are identified under “Channel of Delivery Name”, but this is mainly the very big agencies – like the UN agencies or the World Bank – which in many cases will be passing the money on to smaller implementers. In other cases, the channel mentioned is a broad category, e.g. “National NGOs” or “Recipient Government”.

This provides a foundation for further research but leaves a lot of hard work to do. We have gained a list of Reproductive Health projects, but probably ought to extend it by going through the list of general Health projects, identifying those likely to include a significant element of Reproductive Health. We will need to refer back to the donor agencies to ask them to supply further details.

To get an idea of what kinds of organization are getting most of the funding, we can analyze the project tables by downloading them and importing them to a spreadsheet. Click on the “Export as csv” link. You will receive a file which can be read by Excel and other spreadsheet apps. Most of these apps have a way of automatically conflating all the items of funding in groups based on a common “Channel of Delivery Name”. Without going into the details of how to do it on any particular app, I can show the result I came up with when I analyzed the table of Health sector projects in this way:

Michael005
In summary, the DRC government received nearly 30% of health ODA. More than 40% was channelled through various kinds of NGO, and about 16% through PSI and UNICEF. Other channels seem to have been much less significant.

So while the OECD data on ODA is fairly comprehensive and authoritative, it cannot yield the level of detail you want, about recipient organizations, locations and activities. It cannot clearly distinguish mother/child health activity from other kinds of health activity, let alone provide useful information on strategies, goals and claimed achievements.

3. What can IATI data tell us?

An alternative system which aims to provide this level of detail is the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI).

The good news is:

  1. IATI collects information about aid projects in a datastore from which it can be retrieved by anyone with a computer and good internet connection.
  2. The semantic framework for storing the information (the IATI Activity Standard) is wide and precise enough to be capable systematically of pinpointing the information you ask for. Aid agencies can report any number of project locations with co-ordinates, and besides entering full project descriptions, goals and results into the database, can attach links to any project documents. The sector codes are more detailed than the OECD’s, so in principle one can search specifically on Reproductive health care (which I think is almost the same as maternal, newborn and child health).

The bad news is:

  1. The collected data is so vast and complex that it is hard to present in a comprehensive and clear way for people to understand. I am not aware of any public tool or portal able to extract the exact information you need in a clear way.
  2. The data put into the database is incomplete and often misleading. Most agencies use a small selection of the appropriate tags and codes. Some agencies do not report all their activities. And at the same time, agencies at different levels can report on the same aid money, so financial flows cannot easily be aggregated without double-counting.

Nevertheless, let’s do the best we can. I suggest using two tools for extracting the data from IATI:

  1. IATI’s d-portal (user-friendly but limited in capability)
  2. The IATI datastore API (fairly flexible but it’s output is hard to read)

Using d-portal

  1. Go to d-portal.org.
  2. Click on the large button to Explore IATI data
  3. In the left column (of country names), select Congo, Democratic Republic of
  4. In the next screen, scroll down to the panel headed Where does all the money go? and click the View all link at the bottom of it.
  5. Now we’ve got this table:

Michael006

To see the 2012 spending, we may need to click the left-pointing arrow in the IATI SPEND (USD) column. Health comes at the top of the list, as the sector with greatest spending. The figure we find there for 2012 – 555 million is greater than the health sector spending that we found in the OECD tables. This is probably mainly because IATI includes some kinds of aid not counted by OECD. There may also be double-counting.

Click on that sum of money and we get a list of reported projects, arranged in order of funding magnitude. Note that the top three projects – valued together at about USD 134 million – are all reported by The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. They did not seem to be covered in our OECD list.

Clicking on any of the project names will bring up more details. The usefulness of these details varies from project to project and – more markedly – according to the reporting organization. The Global Fund is one of the minority of agencies which provides links to detailed project documents. In these documents you may be able to find indications of parts of the project particularly relevant to mother-child health, and the where and the what. But at best it will take a lot of time to build up the picture and identify the most interesting cases.

Using the IATI Datastore API

  1. Go to the IATI Datastore at http://datastore.iatistandard.org
  2. Click the link in the left column for the API (an API is a tool for technically-minded people and machines to interact with a computer program or dataset).
  3. The API page contains information about how to construct queries to extract IATI data from the datastore.

Using this information I was able to build the following query

http://datastore.iatistandard.org/api/1/access/activity.xml?recipient-country=CD&sector=13020&start-date__lt=2013-01-01&end-date__gt=2011-12-31

Roughly translated, this means: “Show me all the reported aid activities (projects) in DRC and in the sector of reproductive health which started before 2013 and finished later than 2011”.

When we paste this query into our browser (or click on it above), we get something which begins like this:

Michael007

This method has the dubious advantages that:

  • You are limiting the search to only those projects which have been coded for reproductive health. (But bear in mind that some projects with a reproductive health aspect might not have been correctly coded as such.)
  • It contains more of the original data than is forwarded by d-portal. (However, you may not find this data very useful in practice.)

On balance, you are probably more likely to want to go with the d-portal results. But it is good to be aware that more complete underlying data can in principle be obtained through the datastore.

4. Other channels of research

This question illustrates the limits of what can currently be found in aid databases.

Image from Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maternal_deathTo go further, you may try using Google to find experts who might help you and save you time. For example, a simple  search with

[maternal newborn and child health DRC] would immediately show you a specific WHO page on this subject in DRC. From there, you may find the contact details of some key people to whom you can write.  Importantly, you will also find the names of organizations implementing related programs in the DRC such as the World Bank and UNICEF.

Some official information on maternal, newborn and child health programs in the DRC might also be found in French on a Congolese website.  The French keywords for [maternal, newborn and child health] are [santé de la mère, du nouveau-né et de l’enfant]. If you look for the DRC’s country domain name (.cg); you can then limit your search to pages that contain those keywords and are registered in the DRC, including government websites (learn more about using operators to limit your search to a specific country). By adding [site:.cd]  to your query, you might also find some useful information.

Try that [santé mère nouveau-né enfant site:.cd]… and good luck!