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Understanding development aid (an overview)

Published 14 May 2021 in Analysis

Official Development Assistance (ODA) is an essential public policy for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, and alleviating poverty for millions of people around the world.

Despite this, ODA is one of the least-well known or understood of public investments. This overview offers a brief history of commitments on development aid, its aims and methods, and what makes up our aid budgets.

You will also find the latest figures available on the amounts and breakdown of aid provided by the most frequently-referenced group of donor countries, members of the Development Assistance Committee of the OECD.

Aid developed as an instrument to support poverty-stricken countries after the second world war, and became a definitive part of government policy with the creation of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC).

But the use and objectives of aid in international policy have been fluid over time, as has its popularity. In the 1990s came the phenomenon of "aid fatigue", followed by renewed interest and enthusiasm by the 2000s with the UN’s first-ever development framework, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These were a set of goals which set out to inspire specific action on international poverty. They were updated by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, a framework which sets out 17 goals on international development, governance and climate change, which the world is due to meet by 2030.

In 2022, the DAC OECD members provided 204 billion dollars in total aid, double the levels of 2000. But though this sounds like a substantial increase, it is actually fairly modest, ODA spending representing an average of only 0.36% of Gross National Income (GNI). As a comparison, an informal objective for defence spending in NATO is 2% per member state.

Today, only five countries have met the UN international commitment, agreed back in 1970, to provide 0.7% of their GNI in aid.

An English translation of our Policy Brief on ODA (in French here) is forthcoming.

Further reading

Increase of Development Aid in 2020

Documents to download

Understanding Official Development Assistance (in French) - Focus 2030 Increase of Development Aid in 2020