Slight increase in development aid not sufficient to lift people out of poverty

Published: 13th April 2016

Development aid has reached an all-time high, according to figures released today by the OECD. However, with 900 million people still living in extreme poverty much more needs to be done: only a handful of countries have respected their budget commitments to international development, and increasing amounts of aid are being spent on receiving refugees in rich countries.

Oxfam’s Deputy Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Natalia Alonso, said:

“While it’s good to see some rich countries increasing aid contributions, and that poorest countries are receiving more after several years of decline, we still live in a world of plenty where almost 900 million people suffer from extreme poverty. 

“Governments have been promising for decades to spend 0.7% of their national income to end poverty and fight inequality, but there is a clear lack of political will to meet this and so millions of people will remain in extreme poverty if this continues.

“Most of the increase is down to the fact that some rich governments artificially declared costs for receiving refugees in their own countries as development aid. This is aid which never leaves rich countries. While these countries must meet the needs of the refugees and migrants arriving at our borders, it is important this does not come at the cost of the world’s poorest people.

“Aid figures would be more accurate if the costs of receiving refugees in rich countries were excluded, and so making it clearer how much goes to reducing poverty and inequalities in poor countries. This is why Oxfam, along with other civil society organizations, has been calling on the OECD to exclude such costs from its aid reports,” said Alonso.

Notes to editors

Key figures from the OECD statistics

  • Official development assistance (ODA) has reached an all-time high of USD 131.6 billion in 2015, an increase of 6.9% compared to 2014. 
  • Aid to the poorest countries has increased by 4% between 2014 and 2015. 
  • Only a handful of countries – among them Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Denmark and the United Kingdom – have allocated 0.7% or more of their national income to their development budget.
  • Most of the increase in aid can actually be attributed to the fact that rich governments artificially declared costs for receiving refugees in their own countries as development aid. This figure rose by 81% to USD 12 billion in 2015. 
  • Refugee costs apart, aid increased by only 1.7% from 2014 to 2015.
  • Many important donor countries, including some that on paper reach or exceed the 0.7% target, have allocated a significant and increasing portion of their development aid to cover the costs of receiving refugees.
  • This is the case for Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark and Norway, where costs related to refugee reception represented respectively 34%, 23%, 17%, 16% and 11% of aid budgets.
  • You can access the full dataset here.

​Commitment to spend 0.7% of GNI for development aid

  • Rich countries have repeatedly committed to raise official development assistance (ODA) to 0.7% of donors' national income. This commitment was first made in 1970 in a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly. This commitment has been repeatedly re-endorsed at international development and aid conferences since then.
  • Members of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) generally accepted this 0.7% target, as a long-term aim, with some notable exceptions: Switzerland – not a member of the United Nations until 2002 – did not adopt the target, and the United States stated that it did not subscribe to specific targets or timetables, although it supported the more general aims of the Resolution. The EU specifically committed to reach the 0.7% target by 2015 in line with the Millennium Development Goals.

Development aid and costs for refugee reception

  • You can access the full dataset here.
  • The definition of ‘Official Development Assistance’ (ODA) established by the OECD-DAC allows for donor countries to include certain costs for hosting refugees in their own countries. This part of aid never leaves rich countries, and it does not help achieving the aim of development aid, i.e. lifting people out of poverty in developing countries. Oxfam and other anti-poverty organisations have repeatedly been asking for in-donor country refugee costs not to be counted as ODA.
  • In addition, the way OECD-DAC member countries report on these costs varies widely, which makes it very difficult to compare data from one country to the other. OECD DAC member countries are currently discussing how to clarify existing rules to report the costs for hosting refugees as aid, in an attempt to harmonise reporting practices. It is important that this clarification exercise does not allow for more costs to be counted as aid. See our recent media statement.
  • Costs for the reception of refugees in rich countries counted for as development aid increased by USD 1.8 billion in 2014, a 37% increase compared to 2013, according to the OECD Creditor Reporting System.
  • Anti-poverty campaigning organization ONE projects that, as a result of the refugee crisis, in-donor refugee costs reported by European donors could rise to more than USD 10 billion in 2016.
  • Supporting refugees  is vital - it forms part of our international responsibilities and human rights obligations - and governments need to find the resources to meet the needs of refugees arriving at their borders. However, Oxfam believes that money spent to cover the costs of refugee reception donor countries should not be counted as ODA. Indeed, these expenditures provide no resources to developing countries, nor are they linked to development objectives of improving the welfare of poor people in those countries.
  • A coalition of organisations including Oxfam, Eurodad, ONE, Global Citizen, Save the Children and Bond have been calling on leaders to make sure the choices they make on aid in the coming months do not mean the poorest people lose out on vital public services like education or healthcare. So far more than 115,000 European citizens have signed petitions calling for our leaders to ensure that they ‘Protect the Poorest’ and do not slash aid budgets going to poverty reduction.

Contact information

Florian Oel | Brussels | | t +32 2 234 11 15 | m +32 473 56 22 60

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