Is aid working? Is this the right question to be asking?

Roger C Riddell, Courtesy open democracy (20 November 2009)

“Is it working?” is the question most commonly asked of aid. In response, aid agencies feed the public a diet of overwhelmingly “good news stories” to convince them that it is working. This diverts attention from the central question: how to reduce the major gap between what aid currently does and what it could achieve. How donors provide aid is a major cause of aid’s current ineffectiveness.

International aid today and its origins

International aid forms a constituent part of contemporary international relations.  Today, over 200 different official donor agencies provide aid and over 150 countries or territories receive aid. Practically every government either gives aid or receives it, and some do both, with China and India now both major donors and major recipients of aid.  Governments channel some of their aid funds to and through multilateral agencies, of which the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions are the most prominent: the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) being one the world’s largest providers of aid funds (in its case largely soft loans).  Latest figures, for 2008, put total ODA at a little less than $120 billion, in current prices, almost double the amount provided ten years ago – still far too little for aid’s strongest advocates, and far too much for its harshest critics

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