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 the proposed 2019 budget from the White House. Elsewhere, we’ve covered the ins and outs of foreign aid and why we believe cuts to US funding in particular are a bad idea. Now let’s take a look at who receives the most foreign aid from the American taxpayer, 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. 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.

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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.

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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.

See how we’re helping communities build resilience to hunger »

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?

Our funding comes from a variety of sources, including the US government. For instance, in 2017, we were 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.

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

Syria

With USAID funding of seven million dollars spanning the next three years, Concern — along with partner organization, Bahar Organization — is implementing a development project geared towards improving food security and restoring livelihoods through agriculture in the North East region of Syria. Approximately 73,420 people in Eastern Aleppo, Raqqa, and Der-Ezzour will benefit from improved livelihoods and food security activities. Additionally, with over $13 million from both offices under USAID — Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) and the Office of Food for Peace (FFP) — we are providing improved access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services, ensuring appropriate shelter provision, and distributing food vouchers, dry food, and non-food items such as blankets, mattresses, solar lights, jerry cans, kerosene stoves, and more. Over 386,100 people, among whom 108,600 are internally displaced, benefit from these services.

South Sudan

As a result of conflict, around 1.85 million people in South Sudan remain internally displaced and over 5.3 million people (48% of the population) are severely food insecure. Concern is among few NGOs in South Sudan receiving the highest level of funding from USAID/OFDA to support food-insecure and conflict-affected communities. We’re implementing a $6.4 million multi-sectoral project in three regions in South Sudan, namely Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity, and Central Equatoria (Juba). Around 311,868 individuals, among whom 151,102 are internally displaced, are benefiting from improved services and provision of nutrition, WASH, health, shelter, agriculture, and food security.

Democratic Republic of Congo

We are currently receiving funding from the two offices under USAID — OFDA and FFP — for over 4.5 million dollars to be implemented in 2018-19. A total of 120,625 individuals, out of whom 78,420 are internally displaced people, will benefit from improved services in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), and safe and habitable living spaces. In Haut Lomani province, we’re working to improve access to food through food vouchers for 171,705 individuals, as well as providing seeds and tools to support agriculture production.

Kenya

In 2017, 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. We 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

Our RAPID program is one of Concern’s flagship projects in Pakistan. After Rapid I and II, we are currently implementing RAPID III with $18M assistance from USAID/OFDA office. Population displacement due to insecurity and natural disasters in Pakistan has been a major humanitarian concern for the past few years. During this time, recurrent security issues have displaced more than five million people. The total number of people affected by natural disasters between 2005 and 2015 is about 49 million. Through the five-year-long RAPID III project, we’ll provide financial and technical assistance to NGOs and local authorities throughout Pakistan to ensure that they have the resources as well as strengthened capacity to respond quickly to natural or conflict-induced disasters while building more resilient communities.

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, we 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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