David Roodman, a Research Fellow with the Center for Global Development, writes,
Thought the below might interesting in light of the spat about whether the U.S. is generous. Also see Foreign Policy for an excellent graphic showing how stingy the U.S. is, even counting private giving.
Today, December 29, President Bush defended the U.S. as Ã¢€œa very generous, kind-hearted nation,Ã¢€ which gave some $2.4 billion of relief aid in 2004, 40% of all relief aid. Was he right? Actually, the figures were probably for 2003, since 2004 is not over and the data have not been collected. For 2003, his numbers are right. But does that make the U.S. most generous? The U.S. gave 2.3 cents/person/day of humanitarian relief aid in 2003, ranking it 9th among 21 rich countries. See below.
Of course, ranking ninth out of 190-odd counties in the world isn’t bad.
Still, I’d argue that the data in the table are misleading, in that the calculations define “humanitarian aid” very narrowly. For example, the U.S. spends more than all the countries above it on the chart combined on its military. Military expenditures, from the perspective of those of DAC’s persuasion, are not “humanitarian” at all. That’s true even though the U.S. military has ousted tyrannical regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, spent billions rebuilding the infrastructure of those states, done humanitarian rescue work around the globe, and so forth. I can’t find their methodology on their page, but I strongly suspect the vast amounts the U.S. spends in supporting the U.N., the multiple billions it gives to Egypt and Israel, and similar funds are excluded from the calculations.
I’ve asked David for information on the table’s methodology. I’ll update further if I get clarification.
Update (1809): My suspicions in this seem to have been confirmed. David cites the 2002 REPORTING DIRECTIVES FOR THE CREDITOR REPORTING SYSTEM and notes
Data for this database are supplied by each of the donors each year, and I don’t think they’re really audited, which reflects the fact that the donors fund the DAC too. So in the end, it might be the case that relief aid is what the donors say it is. The numbers I sent you are for “Line I.A.1.5 Emergency and distress relief (code 070)” and definitely line up with the figures Bush cited today.
Looking at the guidelines, though, it appears that relief is narrowly defined within four categories:
Grants are transfers in cash or in kind for which no legal debt is incurred by the recipient. For DAC/CRS reporting purposes, it also includes debt forgiveness, which does not entail new transfers; support to non-governmental organisations; and certain costs incurred in the implementation of aid programmes.
Grant-like flows comprise a) loans for which the service payments are to be made into an account in the borrowing country and used in the borrowing country for its own benefit6, and b) provision of commodities for sale in the recipientÃ¢€™s currency the proceeds of which are used in the recipient country for its own benefit.
Loans are transfers for which the recipient incurs a legal debt and repayment is required in convertible currencies or in kind. This includes any loans repayable in the borrowerÃ¢€™s currency where the lender intends to repatriate the repayments or to use them in the borrowing country for the lenderÃ¢€™s benefit.
Equity investment comprises direct financing of enterprises in the aid recipient country which does not (as opposed to direct investment7) imply a lasting interest in the enterprise. Other official flows are official sector transactions which do not meet the ODA/OA criteria.
Much–if not most–of the money the U.S. spends, ostensibly at least, to help others is not included in these categories.