Is ODA a Good Thing?

In my previous blog posts I have spoken very negatively of the effectiveness of governments ‘developing’ other countries by simply giving money to corrupt governments that poor people will never see. In this post I will explore whether this stereotype of ODA I have in my head is actually true. I will begin by explaining what ODA is and then touch upon the conditions often attached to ODA. I will then look at the positive outcomes of ODA (yes it’s not all bad!) before examining ineffective use of ODA and whether it can in fact be harmful.

What is ‘ODA’?

Official Development Aid (ODA) began in the 1940s when the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) began giving food and goods to developing countries (Riddell, 2009). This soon evolved into ‘bilateral assistance’, in which governments would provide “grants and cheap loans to recipient governments” (Vernon, 2009). The idea to give economic aid stems from the success of The Marshal Plan in rebuilding European economies after the war (Moyo, 2010 p. 36). Consequently, bilateral assistance has now become the most common form of ODA (Riddell, 2009).


Everything has conditions.

The relationship between recipient governments and donor governments is called a ‘partnership’, however these relationships are generally unequal (Vernon, 2009). ODA usually comes with conditions as to how the aid should be spent and often involves policies on aspects of how the country should be run (Moyo, 2010 p. 39). There are many critics of conditionality’s who believe some drastic changes need to take place (Evans, 2009). Glennie argues that donor governments have gone too far and “have effectively decided key recipient government policies for decades” (2008 p. 36). Some donors use conditionality’s to implement democracy into recipient governments as they believe it is the key to economic development (Moyo, 2010 p. 42). However, Moyo argues that this is not the case and it can actually hinder development (2010 p. 42).



Despite all of the negative things I have previously stated about ODA – it is not all bad, and this section will look at the positive achievements of ODA. With the help of ODA some incredible things have been achieved, especially in health and education (Rabinowitz, 2009). ODA was used to set up the Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI), which increased immunization rates of children in 6 key diseases by 70% in 16 years. This is estimated to have saved approximately 3 million lives a  year (Glennie, 2008 p. 28). Moreover it was thanks to ODA that many developing countries could scrap ‘cost recovery’ programmes which charged people for basic services, creating a dramatic increase in the amount of children in school and the amount of children being immunized (Glennie, 2008 p. 29).  ODA has also helped to develop infrastructure in many underdeveloped countries e.g. the ‘road-building and improvement program’ in Ethiopia received 40% of its financing from ODA (Glennie, 2008 p. 30). There are many more examples such as these showing how ODA can improve conditions in specific controlled policies, however many academics argue that when ODA is used over a long period of time with far reaching goals it can be ineffective or even damaging (Moyo, 2010 p. 44).

nepal working

The dark side.

Although ODA has managed to make some positive changes in developing countries when the goals are defined and carried out well, if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture you have to ask yourself ‘is it enough?’ In this section I will explore the argument that ODA is not doing enough good and the possibility that it could even be causing harm.

As more ODA has been poured into Africa’s economy its economic growth is actually declining rather than increasing. To add to this, when ODA was at its highest poverty in Africa increased by 55% (Moyo, 2010 pp. 46-47). “For most countries, a direct consequence of aid-driven interventions has been a dramatic descent into poverty” (Moyo, 2010 p. 47). One reason for this could be that some governments have now become dependent on ODA as a permanent source of income and thus see no point in developing their economies (Moyo, 2010 p. 36). Thus ODA is “no longer part of the potential solution, it’s part of the problem – in fact aid is the problem” (Moyo, 2010 p. 47).


Over the past 5 decades there has been $2.3 trillion spent on ODA (Easterly, 2006 p. 4), however, this vast amount of money has “not secured a better life for Zimbabweans; nor allowed people in Sri Lanka or the DRC to live in peace; nor prevented political violence and mass displacement in Kenya or Georgia” (Vernon, 2009). Recipient governments’ dependency is not the only thing to blame. Another reason for the shortcomings of ODA is donors promising to achieve so much, but believing the method to achieving these ‘big plans’ is throwing money at countries without making sure it is being used effectively (Easterly, 2006 pp. 7-15). There needs to be a better thought-out plan as in many of these countries the state actually has a vested interest in maintaining “powerful elites” and keeping “poor people poor” (Vernon, 2009). Thus showing that the current ODA agenda has some “seriously negative results” (Wallace, 2009).

To conclude.

This blog post has shown that ODA is far from perfect and we are being extremely naïve if we think that world poverty will be cured by simple handing over bundles of cash (Hilary, 2012). However it can be useful in addressing specific “desperate needs of the poor” (Easterly, 2006). Therefore “the main hope for the poor is for them to be their own searchers, borrowing ideas and technology from the West when it suits them to do so” (Glennie, 2008 p. 24).



Easterly, William. 2006. The White Mans’s Burden: Why The West’s Eddorts To Aif The Rest Have Done So Much Ill And So Little Good. Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2006.

Edwards., Michael. 2009. Four immediate responses to Phil Vernon. Open Democracy. [Online] 9 November 2009.

Evans, Alison. 2009. Four immediate responses to Phil Vernon. Open Democracy. [Online] 9 November 2009.

Glennie, Jonathan. 2008. The Trouble With Aid: Why Less Could Mean More For Africa. London : Zed, 2008.

Hilary, John. 2012. Christian Aid seeks ‘exit strategy’ from aid. Progressive Development Forum . [Online] 5 September 2012.

Moyo, Dambisa. 2010. Dead Aid:Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. Farrar : Straus and Giroux, 2010.

Rabinowitz, Gideon. 2009. Four immediate responses to Phil Vernon . Open Democracy. [Online] 9 November 2009.

Riddell, Roger. 2009. Is aid working? Is this the right question to be asking? Open Democracy. [Online] 20 November 2009.

Vernon, Phil. 2009. Overseas Development Aid: Is It Working? Open Democracy . [Online] 9 November 2009.

Wallace, Tina. 2009. Four immediate responses to Phil Vernon . Open Democracy. [Online] 9 November 2009.

(All photos in this blog were taken by myself)


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