Development aid is aid given by developed countries to support development in general which can be economic development or social development in developing countries. It is distinguished from humanitarian aid as being aimed at alleviating poverty in the long term, rather than alleviating suffering in the short term.
Official Development Assistance (ODA), mentioned above, is a commonly used measure of developmental aid. Development aid is given by governments through individual countries’ international aid agencies and through multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, and by individuals through development charities.
Statistical studies have produced widely differing assessments of the correlation between aid and economic growth, and no firm consensus has emerged to suggest that foreign aid generally does boost growth. Some studies find a positive correlation, but others find either no correlation or a negative correlation. In the case of Africa, Asante (1985) gives the following assessment:
Summing up the experience of African countries both at the national and at the regional levels it is no exaggeration to suggest that, on balance, foreign assistance, especially foreign capitalism, has been somewhat deleterious to African development. It must be admitted, however, that the pattern of development is complex and the effect upon it of foreign assistance is still not clearly determined. But the limited evidence available suggests that the forms in which foreign resources have been extended to Africa over the past twenty-five years, insofar as they are concerned with economic development, are, to a great extent, counterproductive.
Peter Singer argues that over the last three decades, “aid has added around one percentage point to the annual growth rate of the bottom billion.” He argues that this has made the difference between “stagnation and severe cumulative decline.” Aid can make progress towards reducing poverty worldwide, or at least help prevent cumulative decline. Despite the intense criticism on aid, there are some promising numbers. In 1990, approximately 43 percent of the world’s population was living on less than .25 a day and has dropped to about 16 percent in 2008. Maternal deaths have dropped from 543,000 in 1990 to 287,000 in 2010. Under-five mortality rates have also dropped, from 12 million in 1990 to 6.9 million in 2011. Although these numbers alone sound promising, there is a gray overcast: many of these numbers actually are falling short of the Millennium Development Goals. There are only a few goals that have already been met or projected to be met by the 2015 deadline.
The economist William Easterly and others have argued that aid can often distort incentives in poor countries in various harmful ways. Aid can also involve inflows of money to poor countries that have some similarities to inflows of money from natural resources that provoke the resource curse.
James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist, has argued that foreign aid causes harm to the recipient nations, specifically because aid is distributed by local politicians, finances the creation of corrupt government such as that led by Dr Fredrick Chiluba in Zambia bureaucracies, and hollows out the local economy. In an interview in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, Shikwati uses the example of food aid delivered to Kenya in the form of a shipment of corn from America. Portions of the corn may be diverted by corrupt politicians to their own tribes, or sold on the black market at prices that undercut local food producers. Similarly, Kenyan recipients of donated Western clothing will not buy clothing from local tailors, putting the tailors out of business. In an episode of 20/20, John Stossel demonstrated the existence of secret government bank accounts which concealed foreign aid money destined for private purposes.
Some believe that aid is offset by other economic programs such as agricultural subsidies. Mark Malloch Brown, former head of the United Nations Development Program, estimated that farm subsidies cost poor countries about US billion a year in lost agricultural exports:
It is the extraordinary distortion of global trade, where the West spends 0 billion a year on protecting its agriculture with a network of subsidies and tariffs that costs developing countries about US billion in potential lost agricultural exports. Fifty billion dollars is the equivalent of today’s level of development assistance.
Some have argued that the major international aid organizations have formed an aid cartel.
Bill Gates on the Importance of Foreign Aid: Economic Growth and Security (2011)