Some Unpleasant ODA Arithmetic

Official development assistance is supposed to be designed to prioritise the economic development and welfare of developing countries. The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee is a club of wealthy donor countries which collaborate to set rules and norms to this effect. However, digging into the official data submitted by donors to the OECD reveals some unpleasant truths. We use data on every funding line reported by donors to the OECD between 2006 and 2019 to investigate the pattern and distribution of commitments and disbursements of ODA to developing countries, and discover that ODA is targeted poorly within the group of eligible developing countries; that this group of eligible countries is gradually expanding to include more relatively wealthy places; that aggregate ODA flows are organized and structured sub-optimally; and that ODA responds more to arbitrary income classifications than it should. We suggest informational and incentive reforms in response. These findings also suggest limits to what realistic reform of ODA can achieve, and, consequently, the importance of non-aid development policy for outcomes in developing countries.

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