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

March 21, 2019
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.

Over the last 3 years, the White House has threatened funding for foreign aid with each proposed budget. 2020’s budget has proposed a 23% cut, which would take the budget from $52.5 to $40 billion. 2019’s budget recommended a 30% cut, and 2018’s proposed a 32% cut. 

However, as the Washington Post noted with its review of the 2020 federal budget, foreign aid is one line item that sees bipartisan support, and in previous years Congress rejected many of these cuts. Most of these funds go to the US Agency for International Development (USAID), a semi-independent agency that manages the lion’s share of America’s development and humanitarian aid. 

We’ve previously covered the ins and outs of foreign aid and why we believe cuts to US foreign aid 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…

What, exactly, is foreign aid? Despite its strong association with the federal budget, foreign aid isn’t just money. It’s anything that one country donates or provides for the benefit of another country. Usually this takes the shape of money. However, foreign aid can also include goods, such as food or technical support. The Congressional Research Service breaks down foreign aid into the following 6 categories: Peace & Security, Investing in People, Humanitarian Assistance, Economic Growth, Governing Justly & Democratically, and Program Management. Assistance can also be classified as multi-sector. 

How we classify foreign aid

It’s worth noting here that the US government classifies foreign aid broadly in only two categories: military aid and economic aid. Military aid includes Peace & Security, which can include funding for counterterrorism and counternarcotics initiatives, conflict mitigation, and security sector reform. 

Economic aid is comprised of the following categories: 

 

  • Investing in People: Funding to protect vulnerable communities and social services, including health and education.
  • Humanitarian: Funding to meet immediate needs during crises like earthquakes and hurricanes. This includes assistance, disaster readiness, and migration management. 
  • Economic Growth: Funding that includes support for trade and investment, infrastructure, agriculture, and the environment. 
  • Governing Justly & Democratically: Funding to promote political stability. This includes funding for good governance, human rights, and civil society. 

 

We’ll be following the same classification, and only refer to economic and military aid below.

Who receives the actual foreign aid?

A common misconception is that all US foreign aid goes directly to governments. Foreign aid is sometimes given directly to governments, but the majority of State Department and USAID-administered assistance is channeled to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like Concern Worldwide. Here’s more on the who, what, how, and when of foreign aid.

Who gets the most foreign aid?

Globally in 2017, the United States spent over $46 billion in foreign aid. Over 38.5% of that budget went to just ten countries:

  1. Afghanistan ($4.89 billion)
  2. Iraq ($3.36 billion)
  3. Israel ($3.18 billion)
  4. Jordan ($1.38 billion)
  5. Ethiopia ($943 million)
  6. South Sudan ($922 million)
  7. Kenya ($899 million)
  8. Pakistan ($892 million)
  9. Nigeria ($644 million)
  10. Uganda ($608 million). 

US Foreign Aid by Country 2017

It’s also worth noting the breakdown between economic and military spending in these countries: Of the roughly $17.7 billion foreign aid dollars given to the top 10 countries, about 59% of it ($10.5 billion) was designated as military funds. In comparison, overall US foreign aid allocated to military funding was just 28.2% (or $13 billion) of its foreign aid budget in 2017.

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

What countries do with their foreign assistance from the United States ultimately depends on what the aid is earmarked for.

In countries like Afghanistan, for example, nearly 73% of its $4.89 billion in aid was designated for military assistance 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, Ethiopia received almost exclusively humanitarian assistance in 2017. Roughly one-third of its total disbursements in 2017 ($332 million) was designated for emergency response, another $162 million was used for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs, and $140 million was allocated for developmental food aid and food security assistance.

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?

Concern Worldwide’s 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.

The difference American foreign aid makes to the people that we work with cannot be overstated. Here are a few quick examples of how, in 2017, we used money received from the US government to help hundreds of thousands of people:

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.

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.

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.

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