Rich country governments put national interests ahead of world’s poorest

Governments of rich states today cleared the way  for the diversion of development aid away from those most in need. Development ministers at a meeting of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) in Paris agreed to allow member countries to use aid money to pay for extra security costs. They also agreed to divert more funds to the private sector, risking a return to using aid to fund their own multinational companies’ work in developing countries. In addition, governments discussed the impact of spending more development aid on the hosting of refugees in rich countries.

Meanwhile, discussions of European leaders at a summit in Brussels confirmed the EU’s approach to prioritize its own agenda of tightened borders and increased state security over the safety and well-being of poor people.

Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Policy and Advocacy Manager at the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) said:

“These decisions run the risk that aid will benefit rich countries in the future instead of going to poverty reduction in developing countries. These decisions, which have mostly been agreed behind closed doors, show why it is crucial that the OECD DAC now opens up its processes. This is equally true when it comes to ongoing discussions about domestic refugee costs. The public has the right to know how these decisions are being reached.”

Sara Tesorieri, Deputy Head of Oxfam’s EU office said: 

“We’ve embarked on a very slippery slope. It is hugely disappointing to see governments taking steps to twist aid into a tool to advance their own security agendas.  Measures to prevent terrorism should be a key security task paid from security budgets, not an add-on for which governments raid development aid coffers.

Governments say they have spelled out a series of safeguards to frame the use of aid for security-related activities. However, they have to make sure there is a mechanism ensuring that these will be enforced and properly monitored on the ground."

Notas a los editores: 

The final communiqué from the High Level Meeting at be found here.

The OECD and Official Development Assistance:

The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) defines development aid and monitors its flows to developing countries. The committee has measured resource aid flows since 1961.

Special attention has been given to the official and concessional part of these flows, defined as “official development assistance” (ODA). The DAC first defined ODA in 1969, and tightened the definition in 1972. ODA is the key measure used in practically all aid targets and assessments of aid performance. The definition is of great importance for the global goal that donor countries commit 0.7% of their GNI to development assistance.

Changes to the DAC rules decided today:

The rules defining what can be included within the ODA definition have been broadened in the field of security. They now include measures such as preventing violent extremism, training partner countries’ military personnel in certain non-combat areas, and engagement with the police beyond training in routine civil policing functions.

The following safeguards have been proposed:

  • Reaffirm that the main objective of ODA is the promotion of the economic development and welfare of developing countries, and that development cooperation should not be used as a vehicle to promote the donor’s security interests
  • Exclude activities involving use or display of force, training in counter-subversion methods, suppression of political dissidence, intelligence gathering on political activities, control of civil disobedience
  • Limit support to preventing terrorism through non-coercive actions

The new rules will be further explained in the so-called ODA casebook on conflict, peace and security activities, including the safeguards. This could be a first step in clarifying which security expenditure can be reported as ODA. However, there are no proper monitoring mechanisms foreseen to ensure that these rules are respected. It is up to the donor countries to declare that they are respecting these safeguards.

As private sector instruments become more used by donors, the rules have not been in line with this new trend. Therefore, the decision made at the DAC meeting is an agreement on the overall principles and gives a number of recommendations for further develop a set of rules and safeguards.

In addition, the DAC has agreed to set up a process to clarify  reporting rules regarding the use of development aid for in-donor refugee costs, and promises that this will be done in a clear, transparent and inclusive manner. Anti-poverty organisations look forward to being consulted on this future work to ensure that the existing rules are not broadened to enable further diversion of ODA towards in-donor refugee costs.

Possible risks of these changes:

While the issues at stake seem to be mostly technical, the decisions have a significant impact on the future content and character of finance for development cooperation.

Anti-poverty organisations fear that changes in reporting rules will mean that an important portion of funds destined for development aid will be spent in the donor countries. Also, these funds may not always focus on developmental purposes. This could undermine the credibility of ODA as a whole.

Including more security-related expenditure within the ODA definition risks blurring the line between development cooperation and policing missions for security.

If more expenses for security and for refugee reception in donor countries can be counted as aid, this could entail less money for aid programmes in developing countries and for poverty reduction.

With regard to private sector investments linked to development aid, the wording in the communique means that there re is a risk that development aid is diverted from supporting public services towards private investment. This can lead to rich nations using ODA to fund companies based in their own countries.  


Oxfam, ONE and Global Citizen have launched a joint petition to ask European leaders to meet the needs of refugees arriving at our borders without doing so at the expense of the world's poorest. The organizations are calling on governments to make sure aid is focused on fighting extreme poverty and prioritizes the countries and people that have the least. So far nearly 80,000 people have signed the petition.

Contacto para medios: 

Oxfam: Florian Oel,, t +32 2 234 11 15, m +32 473 56 22 60

Eurodad: Julia Ravenscroft:, t +32 2 893 0854

For updates, please follow @Oxfam and @OxfamEU