No matter what your specific area of work, if you’re in the global development field, at some point you will probably need to find data on foreign aid. Maybe you work for a small NGO considering a new venture, in say, Cambodia, and you want to know what other similar types of projects are happening there. Maybe you are looking for funding for a project in Namibia, and you want to know which donors currently fund the most work there. Or maybe you are writing an article about aid effectiveness and you want to see which country attracts the majority of U.S. foreign aid, compared with other large donors.
Here is a quick breakdown of the data sources out there, what kinds of information they have, and how to use them. You can find all of these sources and more listed on our website, under the “Resources” tab, and “Policy” under “Issue Areas.”
The OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) collects aid data from OECD members and non-members, and is considered the most reliable source of aid data. Other databases rely on OECD data. The DAC includes grants and concessional loans, but does not include payments made to individuals, military aid, or loans that must be repaid within one year. For more general information about DAC statistics see this factsheet.
How does it work? I recommend using the QWIDS interface, or Query Wizard for International Development Statistics. When you open the link to this interface, you can choose donors, recipients, types of aid flows, sectors, and time period (2008 is the most recent year available). You can get really specific and only look at disbursements of grants for technical cooperation projects in a certain sector, like teacher-training. Once you hit “display the data” you’ll see a chart with some of the data choices you selected- the rest will be visible by toggling the options at the top of the chart. You can also change the layout of the chart. You can see a breakdown of aid by project, by clicking on the dollar amount in the results. This gives the name of the agency funding the project, along with a short description of the project which usually gives at least an idea of what sector the project is in.
AidData is a new source for development finance information. It is based mainly on OECD data, but it includes more detail and cross-references the data with information from other sources. It is a more graphical and somewhat more user-friendly interface. According to their website, AidData plans to include aid flows from non-governmental sources, such as NGOs, in the near future. So far there is no compilation of such data anywhere, so this would be useful.
The nice thing about AidData is the way the results are presented- it is much more intuitive and very easy to find whatever specific information is available. AidData still runs into the same problem as the OECD though, a lot of information just isn’t available, probably because it’s not reported.
What if you need more current data for U.S. foreign assistance to a particular country? What if you want to compare congressional appropriations with actual disbursements? And what if you are interested in military aid, and other types of aid not considered by the OECD? Then you might turn to the Congressional Budget Justification, or the CBJ as it is called. There is no database, and no fancy online query to fill out, just lots of paper to wade through. However, the State Department puts the most useful tables on foreign assistance together in one document, the Foreign Assistance tables, found here. For comparison of U.S. assistance to recipient countries, tables 2a through 4 are the most useful. Before you dive right into the material, you should at least look at the acronyms on page vii, which lists all of the different accounts used by Congress. These accounts are known by their acronyms, like ‘DA’ for development assistance and ‘ESF’ for economic support fund. To make matters more confusing, these accounts are not really used by the State Department and USAID except to request money from Congress- some programs use funding from multiple accounts, if necessary. There is a different chart for each year, starting with actual funds committed in 2009, estimated commitments in 2010, and the Presidential request for the international affairs budget in FY 2011. There are also special charts that track funding in areas of special interest to Congress, such as Basic Education and Microenterprise.
If you are looking for more detailed information than can be found in these handy charts, you may want to wade through Volume II of the Foreign Operations CBJ, where you will find lots of detailed information about various U.S. foreign assistance programs.
I wish you good luck on your quest for foreign aid data. If you know of any other good sources, or if you have any questions, please let me know in the comments.