At the end of September 2011, the Millennium Challenge Account project in El Salvador celebrated its fourth anniversary and its achievements to date. The Millennium Challenge is a US foreign aid program aimed at combating poverty in the countries which receive the funds.
An article in DiarioCoLatino has the comments of José Ángel Quirós, executive director of FOMILENIO, the Salvadoran government agency charged with administering the programs in the country. The program has a goal of alleviating the poverty of more than 150 thousand Salvadorans and improving the quality of life of 850 thousand inhabitants of the northern zone of the country. According to Quirós, after 4 years FOMILENIO had been able to provide training to more than 8500 persons, awarded 3000 scholarships and constructed 20 educational institutions, and created at least 9000 direct jobs.
The US Embassy in El Salvador wrote:
El Salvador’s compact represents the largest concerted economic development program in the Western Hemisphere. In its first four years of implementation, $379.5 million have already been invested in four broad project areas: education and training, community development, productive development, and road connectivity. This last category includes the compact’s most visible project, the $242 million Carretera Longitudinal Norte, a 218 km highway that will connect 94 municipalities of El Salvador’s Northern Zone.
An aspect of Millennium Challenge projects is an attention to transparency and measuring outcomes. For example, you can read here the plan for the US and El Salvador to measure the success of developing jobs and improving household income. You can also go to the US web site for the El Salvdor Compact to review a Table of Key Performance Indicators. Reviewing that data, shows that while the program has been achieving its goals in the areas of agricultural and small business training and education, it still has quite a distance to go on water and sanitation projects and construction of the northern highway (only 13 of 195 kilometers are completed).
When the Millennium Challenge grant to El Salvador was announced during the presidencies of George W. Bush in the United States and Tony Saca in El Salvador, critics on the left reacted with suspicion, calling it simply a program to build a road to allow gold mining companies to exploit natural resources. That criticism always seemed misplaced to me given the real need for improvements in electrical, water, educational and road infrastructure in the poorest zone of the country. Sometimes people need to recognize that a US-sponsored program can actually do real good in the world.
The Salvadoran government is also reaching out to the Salvadoran diaspora, looking for investment back in their home country, especially in the areas getting development assistance from the Millennium project.