Poor countries denied $5.7 trillion in aid because of rich countries’ 50-year failure to deliver on aid promises

Published: 23rd October 2020


Poor countries have lost out on $5.7 trillion in aid over the last 50 years - equivalent to $114 billion a year - because rich countries have reneged on their “solemn promise” to deliver 0.7 percent of their national income in international aid, a new Oxfam report revealed today.

Fifty Years of Broken Promises,” published ahead of the 50th anniversary of the international aid commitment on Saturday 24th October, warns that the economic fallout of COVID-19 will increase the need for aid but will further undermine aid spending, and make it harder for poor countries to mobilize revenue from other sources. The pandemic could push as many as 200 - 500 million more people into poverty, yet just 28 percent of the $10.19 billion the UN requested to help poor countries tackle the crisis has been pledged to date. 

Wealthy nations spent just 0.3 percent of their Gross National Income on international aid in 2019, and only five countries - Luxembourg, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the UK - met or exceeded the 0.7 percent target.

José María Vera, Interim Executive Director of Oxfam International said:

“International aid is a critical tool in the fight against poverty and inequality yet most wealthy governments have been systemically defaulting on their aid commitments for decades. This $5.7 trillion debt is paid for by the 260 million children who are out of school, the half of humanity that lacks access to essential health services, and the 2 billion people who don’t have enough to eat.”

“The coronavirus pandemic means international aid has never been more important - or more at risk,” added Vera.

The report outlines the crucial role aid has played in tackling poverty and inequality over the last 50 years - including in areas that are key to tackling the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Health programs supported by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria have saved more than 27 million lives since 2000. The Global Polio Eradication Initiative has galvanized funding to vaccinate hundreds of millions of children, saving an estimated 18 million children from paralysis and eradicating the disease in many parts of the globe.
  • 34 million children got the chance to go to school as a result of aid package agreed at the 2000 Dakar World Education Forum, while the Civil Society Education Fund has supported national coalitions in 60 countries to advocate for better policies and more resources for education. In Zambia, the coalition successfully lobbied for education’s share of the national budget to increase to an historic 20.2 percent high in 2014.
  • International aid funds the entire social protection programs in 7 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, while in Zambia it helped mobilize the resources needed to increase the number of health workers from 12,000 to 17,000 between 2005 and 2010.


The report also highlights that a significant proportion of aid fails to meet internationally recognized standards on aid effectiveness. For example, aid is often used to support the national or commercial interests of donor countries.  In 2016, donors awarded 51 percent of the aid contracts they report to the OECD to their own domestic companies, and just 7 percent to suppliers in the low-and middle-income countries.

The wealth of the world’s richest man ($185.6 billion in October 2020) is greater than the sum of all international aid budgets ($152.8 billion in 2019), while governments spend more than twice as much subsidizing fossil fuels ($320 billion in 2019) than they do on aid.  

If wealthy nations delivered on their aid commitments it would go a long way towards providing the additional $4.8 trillion needed between 2019-2030 to meet all 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals in the world’s 59 lowest-income countries.   

“International aid is not charity. It is an investment in a fairer, more prosperous, and safer word for us all.

"In a world where one man, Jeff Bezos, is worth more than the sum of all international aid budgets there is no question that governments can and should do more to deliver on their aid promises,” added Vera. 

Notes to editors

Oxfam’s briefing paper, “Fifty Years of Broken Promises,” is available for download.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 260 million children had no access to schooling in 2018.

The World Health Organization’s Tracking Universal Health Coverage: 2017 Global Monitoring Report revealed that half of the global population did not have access to essential health services.

The International Energy Agency said governments provided $320 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2019.

The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 and provide a blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and planet, now and into the future.

Contact information

Anna Ratcliff, anna.ratcliff@oxfam.org or +44 (0)7796993288

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.

Please support Oxfam's Coronavirus Response Appeal.