Foreign Aid Is Not Dead Aid

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SEATTLE, Washington — The most common question that comes to mind when someone is asked to make a donation for foreign aid is, “Will this money accomplish its goal?” There is a notion in American society that a majority of foreign aid from the United States is dead aid due to corruption and implementation issues in the recipient countries. This notion has some merit when statistics show that not all foreign aid is put to its intended use. However, there is still a good reason for people to donate. Changes can be made to make foreign aid more effective. Foreign aid is not dead aid. Below are four foreign aid success stories.

4 Foreign Aid Success Stories

  1. Mali students are receiving 77,000 meals daily. Continued support from the U.S. Department of Agriculture has allowed the USDA’s Food for Education to launch a program in the Mopti and Koulikoro regions of Mali. This program provides children with lunches as well as deworming medication that they can bring home. The school-feeding program has encouraged more children to enroll in school and attend regularly. It is building a stronger foundation for the children’s success in the future. When students get their essential nutrients, they learn better and are more likely to use their education for better opportunities. A country representative of the program hopes that the school kitchens will become self-sustainable by the end of 2020.
  2. CRS has trained more than 700 cooks on hygienic food preparation in Laos. Through the U.S. FFE program, the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) has provided nutrition and education programs for children in Laos. Rather than merely making boxed lunches, the CRS trains local cooks in school to prepare nutritious hot lunches that boost the children’s immune systems and learning abilities. In return for cooking, the staff is able to take some of the food home to their families. By improving access to food, the CRS has improved access to education as well. This has increased school enrollment and attendance, thus setting youth up for success.
  3. REAAP supported 475,000+ people after the Ethiopian drought. USAID also funds CRS’ Resilience through Enhanced Adaptation, Action-learning and Partnership Activity (REAAP) program. Ethiopia’s prolonged drought, erratic rainfall and land degradation are making life difficult for its citizens. Luckily, REAAP is helping nearly half a million people adapt to new practices to mitigate the drastic impact of the drought. In 6 vulnerable districts, REAAP has sent staff members to help the community identify challenges. They create plans and implement manageable, sustainable and low-tech solutions. 
  4. Twenty thousand youths will be job-ready by 2020 in Central America. One million people aged 15 to 25 are out of school and unemployed. They lack the basic skills to enter the labor market in Central America. Violence is escalating, and economic growth is being stifled. Fortunately, with grants from the Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, the YouthBuild program has been able to provide training for more than 20,000 youths. These individuals are taught life skills, vocational training, savings groups, entrepreneurship and community service. They will be ready to go back to school, get a job or start a business. With marketable skills, these at-risk youth now have a chance at secure employment. Hopefully, this will decrease violence and increase economic growth.

Solutions to Improving Foreign Aid

As these four cases show, not all foreign aid is dead aid. However, not all foreign aid is used aid. Changes need to be made to improve the efficiency of foreign aid. No country wants to feel imposed upon by another country. If recipient countries were able to take more ownership of the development plans and policies, there is a greater chance that the aid would be implemented correctly. One solution would be to have guided planning in order to make sure the aid is going to the appropriate policies. This could be possible with locally-rooted think-tanks with local consultants, political economists and national economists collaborating on solutions.

However, like with most solutions, foreign aid cannot have “a one-size-fits-all” approach. Well-regulated countries should be granted ownership of policies quicker and easier compared to those countries that struggle with corruption. More unstable countries may need more oversight with shorter commitment, more evaluation and deeper guidance.

When Politics Motivates Aid

The motivation behind aid also plays a role in evaluating its effectiveness. Some foreign aid is given with a political intention while the other form of aid is focused on development. For example, U.S. aid in Pakistan and Jordan in the past was meant to gain support from allies on the war on terror. In this case, the goal was foreign policy and not development. Therefore, its success should not be judged by the development of the recipient countries.

This information, unfortunately, is not readily known to the public. The confusion of goals can lead to misinterpretation of results. If the U.S. were able to divide its aid by motivation, it would be easier to quantify the results and increase the accuracy of the evaluation of foreign aid. Knowing the motivation behind a particular amount of foreign aid would also help donors when deciding how much to contribute.

Ultimately, it is most important to remember that slow progress is still progress. Foreign aid is not dead aid. It continues to play a role in the development of impoverished countries and it deserves a place in the U.S. budget.

Shvetali Thatte
Photo: Flickr

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