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In the news: International aid reached record levels in 2019

‘The poorest countries will be the hardest hit’ by COVID-19.

Cash is handed out in Kamako
Cash is handed out in Kamako, a border town in the Democratic Republic of Congo, during an ICRC assistance programme for Congolese deported from Angola. (Jonathan Busasi Nsalimbi/ICRC)

The value of international development aid reached a new peak of $152.8 billion in 2019, a slight increase over 2018, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), a group of wealthy donor nations.

Introducing the preliminary data, officials with the 29-member body urged donors to help low-income countries deal with the coronavirus crisis. “Pandemics are by essence Global Public Bads,” the OECD reported. “No country is unaffected by the COVID-19 virus.”

“We are not going to defeat it, unless we do it collectively,” said Susanna Moorehead, chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, noting that development aid is a “scarce resource”, and that donor country economies will shrink. “The poorest countries will be the hardest hit and they will continue to need our help, possibly as never before.”

A statement from Oxfam warned against aid reductions, saying donors should “radically and rapidly increase their aid now to a level we’ve never seen in our lifetimes”.

As was also the case in 2018, only five OECD member countries reached the UN target of spending 0.7 percent of gross national income on international development: Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK. The average across OECD members is 0.3 percent. 

The United States, Germany, and the UK were the largest donors in dollar terms, representing half the total. Despite periodic calls for reductions in aid from the White House, US aid spending dropped by only 0.4 percent.

The OECD’s membership does not include all major aid donors (the Gulf countries are among those missing), but it accounts for 59 percent of all official aid, according to Oxfam.

About $14 billion less aid money went to upper-middle income countries than in 2018, as more aid was concentrated on the poorest countries. 

Spending on hosting refugees also dropped – under OECD’s complex rules on the definition of Official Development Assistance (ODA), assimilating refugees into a donor country can be partly chalked up against ODA. Since the flow of refugees to Europe has slowed, the amounts have sunk from a peak of $17 billion in 2016 to $10 billion in 2019. 

The OECD added a summary of data about international spending on health, showing that Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Kenya received the most aid in that sector in 2018. The largest funders in health are the US, the Global Fund, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, providing about half of $26 billion.

– Ben Parker

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