The effectiveness of international aid has been the subject of hundreds of empirical analyses. Its relationship with economic development, extreme poverty alleviation, sustainability, and conflict has determined the way in which enormous sums of money and resources are allocated each year- making it also a sensitive subject in the political arena.
Polarizing positions on the cost/benefits or positive or negative impacts of foreign aid are common, but the existing data is limited: it is mainly contained in the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee’s (DAC) databases. Although the DAC provides comprehensive data on the flow of international aid by recipient, sector, and project, most of the aid literature on conflict and development has almost exclusively focused on aggregate country-level data. In other words, even though many conflicts are localized, information on specific aid projects is at the national level. This means that our understanding of the link between aid and conflict is murky at best.
However, recent research examining the geography of international aid flows has shown that using project specific information can help better assess the effects of these resources on violent armed conflict. Introducing data on approximately 25,190 foreign aid projects in Sierra Leone, Angola, and Mozambique between 1989 and 2008, and correlating it to violent incidents data from the Uppsala Conflict Data Program, researchers found that higher levels of fungible aid, or aid that can be easily reallocated due to institutional weakness, appears to increase conflict.
The many cases in which diverted humanitarian or development assistance have ended up aiding warfare are well known. However, systematically comparing project-specific information alongside localized conflict cases would be a critical step toward improving our understanding of the conditions under which international aid helps versus harms, and therefore take the political debate to a higher level.
Findley, M. G., Powell, J., Strandow, D., Tanner, J. (2011). The localized geography of foreign aid: A new dataset and application to violent armed conflict. World Development, 9(11), 1995-2009.
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