Aid Statistics

updated December 2016

Total foreign aid, the voluntary transfer of funds from richer governments for the purpose of assisting less fortunate countries, was $131.6 billion in 2015, a statistic that has barely changed in recent years. The share of just over $40 billion allocated to the 48 Least Developed Countries is at its lowest level since 2010, a source of concern to anti-poverty campaigners.

These 2015 figures are provisional and relate only to 28 of the richer OECD countries for whom aid data is collated systematically. Known as “Official Development Assistance” (ODA), this data collection is coordinated by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC). It represents a substantial but diminishing proportion of all international aid.

Non-DAC countries are increasingly engaged in strategic “south-south” aid programmes, reported as totalling $5.9 billion in 2013. Private foundations and non-governmental agencies provide a further significant addition to ODA. These sources also lack formal reporting frameworks but for 2013 the total was given by DAC as $29.7 billion.

These statistics are not confined to conventional long term development programmes. They also cover emergency humanitarian aid provided in response to natural disasters, conflict and post-war reconstruction. The differentiation from development aid is not always straightforward but total humanitarian aid was reported to be $13.6 billion for 2015, a significant increase over the previous year. The main humanitarian beneficiary countries were Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Sudan.

Around 30% of ODA reported for 2015 was “multilateral aid” – funds made available to support the development programmes of UN agencies, the European Union, the World Bank and regional development banks.

“Bilateral aid” targets specific beneficiary countries, its distribution reflecting the priorities of individual donor countries as much as any global strategic plan for poverty reduction.

Bilateral aid is disbursed largely by grants to government ministries or through national and international development NGOs. It also includes “technical cooperation”, the transfer of skills and knowledge, often involving fees for individual consultants from the donor country.

The remaining two principal categories of aid, debt relief and refugee costs (in the donor’s own country), are moving in opposite directions. Refugee costs almost doubled to $12.0 billion, close to 10% of all aid. Several European countries, led by Denmark, were the largest single beneficiary of their own aid budget.

By contrast, debt relief has fallen almost to zero, having risen as high as 20% of total ODA back in 2005. This may prove to be a false dawn as many experts predict a resurgence of the debt crisis, especially in Africa. Falling commodity prices, the strong value of the US dollar and the increasing share of aid provided as loans rather than grants are the prevailing negative influences on capacity to service debts.

Aid contributions by individual countries are monitored by reference to a UN Resolution passed as long ago as 1970. The richest countries promised to advance their aid budgets progressively towards a target of 0.7% of national income.

This percentage is somewhat arbitrary in relation to the needs of the poor but it has remained an acknowledged benchmark. The commitment was renewed as recently as September 2015 in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development adopted by the UN General Assembly.

Aid promises have no substance in international law and there is a long track record of backsliding by rich governments. The 0.7% aid target also remains unfulfilled. Only six countries, Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK, have attained this benchmark. The remainder are so far behind that the DAC average for 2015 was only 0.30%, less than the equivalent figure for 1990. Of the richer countries, US, Italy and Japan occupy the foot of the table.

Nonetheless, the Millennium Campaign has observed that the total cost of bailing out financial institutions in 2008/09 was nearly ten times the aggregate of foreign aid for the last 50 years.

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Introduction to non ODA flows – an overview of DAC statistics, with a special focus on statistics beyond Official Development Assistance (ODA)
from OECD


What is foreign aid? Oliver Babson of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation reflects on the complexities of aid.

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