Development Cooperation Handbook/Defining Aid

Defining Aid

Defining Aid

Aid is the help provided to communities or countries in the event of a humanitarian crisis or to support the development of communities living in difficult economic or social situations.

Aid is generally subdivided into two main categories: Humanitarian aid (emergency relief efforts, e.g. in response to natural disasters), and development aid, aimed at helping countries achieve long-term sustainable economic growth, by supporting poverty reduction.

Used as a technical jargon, the difference between the two categories of aid is mainly operational: humanitarian aid is typically in response to humanitarian crises including natural disasters and man-made disaster, requiring a quick response and more easily standardized; while development aid focuses on alleviating poverty in the long term, rather than a short term response. requiring longer processes of understanding and specific planning.

In many circumstances the very notion of "aid" is being put into question as it is showing a "top-down" approach between the "top-donor" and the "down-recipient"

In many circumstances the very notion of "aid" is being put into question as it shows a "top-down" human relation mode between the "top-donor" and the "down-recipient". So the term "development cooperation" is preferred because it reveals a equal-partner approach conducive to a more efficacious and more gratifying form of cooperation.

While there is valid scope for "aid" in humanitarian responses to calamities, the "aid" approach to development can be perceived as a form of dominance and interference by the donor over the recipient. (see more in ⇒ criticism of aid)

Also while articulating projects and programmes, there is the need to link the two aspects of aid: on the one hand, it is important to follow up emergency relief with longer development support; on the other, it is important to mainstream the prevention of calamities into development activities, for instance, enabling the community to prevent and face emergency situations. (See ⇒ Linking relief, rehabilitation and development).

Classifications of aid

Here is a list of "aid genders" used in the technical jargon of "aid workers"

  • International aid, (also referred to as overseas aid, or foreign aid) is given to recipient to a different nation.
  • project aid: Aid is given for a specific purpose e.g. building materials for a new school.
  • Programme aid: Aid is given for a specific sector e.g. funding of the education sector of a country.
  • Budget support: A form of Programme Aid that is directly channeled into the financial system of the recipient country.
  • Sectorwide Approaches (SWAPs): A combination of Project aid and Programme aid/Budget Support e.g. support for the education sector in a country will include both funding of education projects (like school buildings) and provide funds to maintain them (like school books).
  • Food aid: Food is given to countries in urgent need of food supplies, especially if they have just experienced a natural disaster.
  • United Aid: The country receiving the aid, can spend the money as they chose.
  • Tied Aid: The aid is used by the country donating it to build infrastructure, purchase goods etc.
  • Technical assistance: Educated personnel, such as doctors are moved into developing countries to assist with a program of development. Can be both programme and project aid.
  • Emergency aid: This is given to countries in the event of a natural disaster or human event, like war, and includes basic food supplies, clothing and shelter.

Aid effectiveness: Evaluating the impact of aid

Development effectiveness is the effectiveness of development aid in achieving development (or development targets). Aid effectiveness refers to the degree to which development aid works and is a subject of significant disagreement.

The Paris Declaration in 2005 helped build a broad consensus among the international community on how to make aid more effective. At its heart was the commitment to help developing country governments formulate and implement their own national development plans, according to their national priorities, using, wherever possible, their own planning and implementation systems.

Aid effectiveness refers to the degree to which development aid works. Some economists such as Peter Bauer and Milton Friedman argued in the 1960s that aid is ineffective. It is opportune to distinguish aid effectiveness from impact. Aid effectiveness is more a concern at macro level, policies, international agreements, multinational programmes or even with the effectiveness of aid altogether. Impact is more concerned at the micro level, with the effectiveness of specific actions and programmes.

It has been argued that a lot of government-to-government aid was ineffective because it was merely a way to support strategically important leaders. It has also been argued that help based on direct donation creates dependency and corruption, and has an adverse effect on local production. As a result, a shift has taken place towards aid based on activating local assets and stimulation measures such as micro-credit. Another major point of criticism has been that western countries often project their own needs and solutions onto other societies and cultures. As a result of this criticism, western help in some cases has become more 'endogenous', which means that needs as well as solutions are being devised in accordance with local cultures.

A common criticism in recent years is that rich countries have put so many conditions on aid that it has reduced aid effectiveness. In the example of tied aid, donor countries often require the recipient to purchase goods and services from the donor, even if these are cheaper elsewhere. Other conditions include opening up the country to foreign investment, even if it might not be ready to do so.

See also


  Development Issues ⇒ Does international aid really benefits the target populations?

  • in other sections of this handbook
  Development aid


The old   distinctions between "international aid" and "local aid" are no longer valid, because the world is now  a global village - P.Krishna

Old distinctions between "international aid" and "local aid" are no longer valid, because the world is now  a global village and we feel global ethical responsibilities. What is important is to understand how to make aid effective and fair.  In cases of emergencies the aid given as external "assistance"  surely provides immediate relief; but it should not continue for long; aid should become development cooperation, otherwise it will weaken the recipients and make them chronically aid dependent.  "If instead we can educate them to stand on their own legs, we have really helped them." The real long term empowerment is only through education.