5 Aid myths busted

Overseas aid agendas of governments and proposed cuts in real spending on aid budgets are under review across donor countries. The prolonged global recession, rising unemployment and recovery difficulties ahve fueled many misconceptions, myths and stereotypes about aid and have made their way into classrooms, policy debates and recent ‘what next for aid and development’ conversations as the MDGs’ term finishes in 2015 and we wait on the outcome of the recent Review of the White Paper on Irish Aid (the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s aid programme review).

Crossposted below is a concise myths buster on overseas aid adapted by the Dochasnetwork Blog for Irish readers from an ActionAid Australia version published earlier last month. For more info on the arguments and history of aid giving in Ireland see Debating Aid: A Development Education Resource.

[If there are any other ‘myths’ that you think are in need of busting or you disagree with anything presented below feel free to make suggestions in the comments section at the end of the post. Tony]

1. “If we keep giving people money they will never learn to look after themselves.”

Not all aid is created equal. The kind of aid that helps support dramatic decreases in aid dependence is what ActionAid calls Real Aid – that’s aid which empowers poor people to realise their rights. It might do this directly by supporting smallholder farmers or building schools, or indirectly by helping to create better tax systems and governance. Real Aid is accountable, transparent, and gets the most out of every dollar spent. It supports developing countries to make their own decisions.

Real Aid is actually making poor countries less aid dependent. For example, 14 of the 30 most aid-dependent countries in the year 2000 had reduced their dependence on aid (the percentage of government spending that comes from foreign aid) by more than 20% by 2009.1

2. “We can’t afford to give money away to people overseas when we have poor people in Ireland. Charity begins at home.”

It’s not a case of ‘either or’. The Irish Government spends over €20.5 billion a year on welfare compared to €639 million on overseas development. Ireland is the 16th richest country in the world. And yet the amount spent on aid represents only 52c in every €100 of our national income.2

3. “Aid doesn’t work. Look how much we’ve already spent and people are still poor and dying of diseases and starvation. What’s the point?”

Not true. Arguing that because aid is found in countries that are poor, it must be the cause of low growth is like arguing that fire engines cause fires because they can be found at the scenes of burning houses3. Real Aid that genuinely targets poverty is very effective.

Real Aid has contributed to halving the number of people in poverty since 1990 and reduced the number of children who die needlessly by 10,000 a day4. A DAY.
But despite this huge impact, the world spends less money on Real Aid than it does on video games5. Puts the whole thing in perspective, doesn’t it?

4. “Aid is wasted on corrupt regimes. Look how much money all those African politicians earn!”

Aid FIGHTS corruption. Real Aid, which empowers poor and excluded people to stand up for their rights, has been used successfully to combat corruption by investing in independent auditing, free media, community accountability, and parliamentary structures.
Aid also empowers poor countries to increase tax revenues from their wealthier citizens, boosting the amount of money earned to be spent on vital services that help the poor. And speaking of corruption, developing countries lose more money due to tax-dodging by global corporations than they receive in foreign aid every year.6

5. “Aid money is wasted by NGOs who spend it all on administration, not helping the poor.”

A little administration goes a long way. NGOs on average spend less than 20% of the money they receive on administration7, and independent assessments have found that spending less than this actually increases the likelihood that donations will be ineffective. Would you buy a car because 90% of your dollar went to building it, and only 10% towards designing and testing it?8

Money spent to run programs efficiently makes sure aid is effective for the people it’s supposed to be helping. That’s a sound investment in quality control, not money wasted.



1. Real Aid – 3 | ActionAid International | Sep 2011

2. Statistics from A to Z | OECD

3. 21st Century Aid | Oxfam International | May 2010

4. Global child mortality continues to drop | UNICEF | 10 Sept 2009

5. Real Aid – 3, Reuters Online June 2011

6. Report: Death and Taxes: the true toll of tax dodging | Christian Aid | May 2008

7. The Life You Can Save | Peter Singer|  2009 | website dedicated to putting Singer’s book into practice (also contains videos and links to purchasing the book