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

January 2, 2021
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 4 years, the White House has threatened funding for foreign aid with each proposed budget. Proposed cuts have ranged between 23 to 32%. Funds that have been approved have also faced freezes, including a temporary freeze placed on certain packages at the end of December, 2020.

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…

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. This can be money. However, foreign aid can also include goods, such as food or technical support. 

How we classify foreign aid

Broadly speaking, the US government classifies foreign as one of two categories: military aid and economic aid. (Military aid includes funding for counterterrorism and counternarcotics initiatives, conflict mitigation, and security sector reform.) We’ll be following this same classification in our reporting 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.

How much money does the US give to other countries? And who’s getting the most?

There is always a lag time for reporting accurate numbers, so for 2021, we’ll be using the numbers from 2019. In this year, the United States spent over $47 billion in foreign aid (on par with what it spent in 2018). Just over 35% of that budget went to just ten countries:

  1. Afghanistan ($4.89 billion)
  2. Israel ($3.3 billion)
  3. Jordan ($1.72 billion)
  4. Egypt ($1.46 billion)
  5. Iraq ($960 million)
  6. Ethiopia ($922 million)
  7. Yemen ($809 million)
  8. Colombia ($800 million)
  9. Nigeria ($793 million)
  10. Lebanon ($790 million) 

Learn more about our work (supported in part by foreign aid)

It’s also worth noting the breakdown between economic and military spending in these countries: Of the nearly $16.5 billion foreign aid dollars given to the top 10 countries, 57% of it ($9.3 billion) was designated as military funds. That’s over 65% of overall US foreign military aid (14.08 billion) in 2019. 

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 57% 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 2019 (less than 0.25% of its funding was earmarked for military assistance). As in previous years, the majority of economic aid was designated for emergency response, along with developmental food aid and food security assistance, and maternal and child health. 

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 2018, we were able to work with nearly 700,000 people in South Sudan 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 examples of how we’ve used money received from the US government to help hundreds of thousands of people:

Ethiopia

Concern received $2 million from the Agency for International Development, International Disaster Assistance in 2019 for a disaster risk reduction initiative in Ethiopia. Like the rest of the Horn of Africa, the country has faced deadly drought in the last decade, which has contributed to a hunger crisis. In previous years, foreign assistance has also supported work with malnourished children and lactating mothers, clean water initiatives, and a project where we introduced Irish potatoes to local farmers (which are much 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. Year over year, foreign aid allows us to reach hundreds of thousands.

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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