Foreign aid by country: Who is getting the most — and how much?

February 21, 2018
Photo by Kieran McConville

Ever wondered which countries are getting the most foreign aid? We answer your questions about how much the United States gives to other countries — and what it is used for.

Foreign aid is once again on the chopping block in President Trump’s proposed 2019 budget. Earlier we covered the ins and out of foreign aid, and why we believe cuts to US foreign aid in particular are a bad idea. Now let’s take a look at who receives the most foreign aid, and how the US is contributing to much-needed development and humanitarian aid around the world.

But first, a refresher on foreign aid…

So what do we mean when we say “foreign aid”? Foreign aiddespite its strong association with the federal budget, isn’t just money. As we’ve described before, it’s anything that one country gives to or provides for the benefit of another country. Usually that’s money, but it can also include goods, such as food, or technical support.

Foreign aid can be divided into four broad categories: political, humanitarian, development, and security.

Here’s the breakdown of US foreign aid spending in 2016:

Pie graph of what foreign aid is spent on

It’s worth noting here that the US government classifies foreign aid broadly in only two categories: military aid and economic aid. Economic foreign aid is a large umbrella that includes political, humanitarian and development assistance. We’ll be following the same classification, and only refer to economic and military aid below.

So, who gets the most foreign aid?

Check out this graph below of the top ten countries receiving foreign aid.

Which countries get the most foreign aid

It might come as a surprise to discover that the lion’s share of American foreign assistance is for military purposes that serve American national security interests. Of the roughly 18.2 billion foreign aid dollars given to the top 10 countries, about 11.6 billion was designated as military funds. For a view on all the countries that receive foreign aid from the United States, the Department of State has created an interactive map that you can explore.

What are the countries receiving foreign aid doing with all that cash?

As you can imagine, it really depends on what the aid is earmarked for. In countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, for example, of the 8.5 billion they received in 2016 from the United States, 6.2 billion dollars was designated for military assistance or for conflict, peace, and security purposes according to USAID. This can include a broad range of programming, from counter-terror operations to strengthening legal and judicial systems. On the other end of the spectrum, countries like South Sudan and Ethiopia received almost exclusively humanitarian assistance. For example, when South Sudan experienced famine last year, 265 million dollars of US foreign assistance was donated for emergency food aid, saving countless lives.

A distribution of tarpaulins in DRC

A Concern distribution of tarpaulins to displaced families in Katale, Masisi, DRC. Concern’s programming in the region is made possible by funding from the US government, amongst other sources. Photo: Kieran McConville

Where does Concern fit in all this?

That’s a great question! Concern’s funding comes from a variety of sources, including the US government. For instance, last year Concern was able to reach more than 400,000 people in South Sudan with emergency nutrition and food aid thanks in large part to funds received from the US government, as well as from donors like you.

The difference American foreign aid makes to the people that we work with cannot be overstated. Here are a few quick examples of how Concern uses money we receive from the US government to help hundreds of thousands of people:

Kenya

Last year, Concern received two million dollars from the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). With those funds, we provided emergency nutrition to communities badly affected by drought in Marsabit county. Concern also supported Kenyan health facilities and workers, and provided training in maternal and infant nutrition. But that’s not all. Through our water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programming, Concern distributed soap and water purification tablets to ensure that communities were not only able to practice good hygiene, but also make the water they collected safe to drink.

Pakistan

With 26.7 million dollars received in foreign assistance, Concern continued the second phase of our RAPID program in Pakistan, which runs from 2013 to 2019. This program helps communities that are impacted by conflict or natural disaster. Working through local nonprofits, the program has provided emergency shelters, non-food emergency items, and better access to clean water and sanitation.

Ethiopia

Concern received 4.2 million dollars from OFDA in 2017 to work in Ethiopia. The country was hit hard by drought last year, leading to a deadly hunger crisis. With the funds received from the US government, Concern provided an emergency food response, focusing on malnourished children and pregnant and lactating mothers. We also built desperately needed wells to provide communities with clean water. Additional funds from Feed the Future (a US government initiative) helped us introduce Irish potatoes to local farmers, which are easier to grow in drought-like conditions.

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