Does Foreign Aid Really Work?

Does Foreign Aid Really Work?

Does Foreign Aid Really Work?

Does Foreign Aid Really Work?


Foreign aid is now a $100bn business and is expanding more rapidly today than it has for a generation. But does it work? Indeed, is it needed at all? Other attempts to answer this important question have been dominated by a focus on the impact of official aid provided by governments. But today possibly as much as 30 percent of aid is provided by Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and over 10 percent is provided as emergency assistance. In this first-ever attempt to provide an overall assessment of aid, Roger Riddell presents a rigorous but highly readable account of aid, warts and all. iDoes Foreign Aid Really Work?/i sets out the evidence and exposes the instances where aid has failed and explains why. The book also examines the way that short-term political interests distort aid, and disentangles the moral and ethical assumptions that lie behind the belief that aid does good. The book concludes by detailing the practical ways that aid needs to change if it is to be the effective force for good that its providers claim it is.


Twenty years ago, I wrote a lengthy book entitled Foreign Aid Reconsidered. It was written in part as a riposte to the popular and influential view at the time that the answer to development lay in expanding and deepening free markets. According to the strongest free-market adherents, aid actively impeded rather than contributed to development.

On a number of occasions since then, I have been asked to write an updated edition of this earlier book, surveying and reviewing new evidence and the new ways that aid has been provided to see what light this sheds on the continuing debates about the merits of providing aid. Though I was keen to 'reconsider aid' again, until recently other commitments prevented me from doing this. From mid-2004 onwards, however, I have had the opportunity to examine anew the overall contribution and impact of foreign aid. This book is the result of nearly two years' intensive work.

Rather than simply updating the earlier book, however, it quickly became apparent that what was needed was a new and quite different book on aid because of the changes that have taken place and are continuing to take place in the complex worlds of aid. Three are of particular importance.

First, Foreign Aid Reconsidered focused overwhelmingly on official development aid—assistance provided by governments and international agencies. Emergency and humanitarian aid, and aid provided by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations were hardly mentioned. Even today, most published studies which seek to answer the question 'Does aid work?' still focus their attention exclusively on official development aid. This is no longer adequate. Over the past 20 years, aid provided for emergencies has expanded more than fivefold, and there has been a huge expansion in aid provided by NGOs. Indeed, today (in current price terms), emergency and NGO aid account for more than the total value of all official aid provided in the mid-1980s ($29bn). Surprisingly, however, no book has been published to date which has attempted to examine the impact of all aid: development aid provided by official agencies, development aid provided by NGOs and emergency aid provided by both. This book is a first attempt to do so. It is based, in part, on my own involvement in these 'new' areas: over the past 15 years, I have undertaken a succession of major studies, often in collaboration with others, involving numerous field visits, which have examined the impact of the . . .

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