Nearly half of all claimed aid not even delivered
Much less aid is being delivered in Africa than we have been led to believe. Many bemoan the billions of aid dollars that have supposedly flooded into Africa over the past forty-odd years with precious little to show for it – but research by the British NGO ActionAid and others has demonstrated the pathetic reality behind the official figures.
It is not always possible to determine what constitutes overseas development assistance in any country’s budget – debt relief, spending on military bases and even diplomatic and migration services are often classified as aid – seriously distorting official figures. Much aid, in fact, directly benefits the donor country, as it is tied to the purchase of goods and services from the donor. This makes little sense in terms of costs or efficiency – food purchased through tied aid, for example, is about 40 percent more expensive than what could be acquired through open market transactions. As a result, sub-Saharan Africa effectively loses about 2.5 billion dollars of the annual aid it receives.
Tied aid is part of a larger category referred to as phantom aid. ActionAid claims that in addition to tied aid, phantom aid involves a ‘failure to target aid at the poorest countries, runaway spending on overpriced technical assistance from international consultants, tying aid to purchases from donor countries’ own firms, cumbersome and ill-coordinated planning, implementation, monitoring and reporting requirements, excessive administrative costs, late and partial disbursements, double counting of debt relief, and aid spending on immigration services.’ All of this reduces the value of actual aid being delivered. Of the $80 billion reported as aid granted in 2010 it is estimated that less than $42 billion was actual aid.
In real aid terms, the US spends 0.06 percent of its Gross National Income, less than one-tenth of the UN’s 0.7-percent target. With the exceptions of five small northern European states, the prospect of the developed world ever reaching a real 0.7 percent of GNP in overseas development assistance is nonsense. None of the large European countries are even close.
Between meagre aid, phantom aid, tied aid, and aid pilfered along the way, it is far from clear how much of an impact aid actually makes on Africa – although ironically we now know that much of it is at least benefitting donor countries.
I am certainly not opposed to properly managed and directed aid – but I am opposed to donor countries claiming they are delivering aid which they are clearly not – especially when the four major killers in sub-Saharan Africa – diarrhea, malaria, measles and pneumonia – diseases for which there are low cost, safe treatments readily available – continue to kill nearly 3 million children each year.