Rise in overseas aid in 2021 still fails to meet needs of global crises

  • Donations of excess vaccines, in-country refugee costs, the use of private sector instruments and debt relief continues to inflate aid figures
  • 40 CSOs across the world issue a joint statement calling for more and better-quality ODA

Figures for official development assistance (ODA) for 2021, published today, show that spending reached an all-time high of US$ 178.9 billion, representing an increase of 4.4 per cent in real terms. However, this is almost entirely due to the immediate response to the Covid-19 crisis through new or recycled vaccine donations. If the costs of vaccines were excluded, ODA only grew by 0.6 per cent in real terms compared to 2020. This does not reach the resources needed for countries to tackle the huge increase in global poverty levels.

Nerea Craviotto, Senior Policy and Advocacy Officer at the European Network on Debt and Development (Eurodad) said: “Today’s increase represents a very modest rise in terms of gross national income for all donor countries, from 0.32 per cent of GNI in 2020 to 0.33 per cent. This is a drop in the ocean in terms of what is needed to tackle the current wave of crises, and it falls far beneath the amount countries have committed to. Most of the increase is also due to the immediate response to the Covid-19 crisis and is not for mid- or long-term development needs."

Not only are current ODA levels insufficient, today’s figures also reveal that the statistics are inflated - a trend that is likely to accelerate in 2022. Over the past decade, DAC members have made a series of agreements, mostly under the heading “ODA modernisation” - and mostly behind closed doors - which have undermined the credibility, integrity and solid reputation of OECD DAC statistics. They have allowed donors to inflate their ODA figures by US$ 16.2 billion (or nine per cent of ODA) in 2021. This includes the reporting of: excess Covid-19 vaccines (US$ 2.3 billion), the use of private sector instruments (US$ 4.1 billion), in-donor country refugee costs (US$ 9.3 billion) and net debt relief (U$S 484 million).

New rules agreed by donors in February allowing them to report excess Covid-19 vaccine doses donated to countries in the global south have been particularly controversial. These doses were never purchased in the interest of developing countries, but in 2021 they still represented a total of US$ 2.3 billion reported as ODA: 1.3 per cent of total ODA. Furthermore, the lack of transparency regarding the details of these in-excess vaccine donations makes it impossible to determine whether, and to what extent, they are inflating bilateral donors' ODA figures even further.

The use of bilateral loans by some donors also remains a source of concern. For instance, three countries reported a high share of bilateral ODA as sovereign loans, namely Japan (55%), Korea (36%) and France (23%). This was despite the fact that many of the poorest countries already have acute debt problems, and are now on the verge of a debt crisis. In 2021, 19 per cent of gross bilateral ODA was provided in the form of non-grants (as loans and equity investments), compared to 22 per cent in 2020.

Forty civil society organisations, including Eurodad, - have published a statement in response to the publication of these statistics which calls current ODA levels ‘insufficient’, The statement urges the donor community to fulfil the longstanding 0.7 per cent target for ODA in 2022, as well as the 0.15 per cent to 0.2 per cent target for low-income countries.

Nerea Craviotto said: “These ODA figures come at a crucial moment as the pace of recovery of the richest part of the world and the rest of the world continues to diverge. Added to this are the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events on the one hand, and a humanitarian crisis triggered by war in Ukraine on the other.

“Without greater ambition this year on the quality and quantity of aid, it will not reach those that need it most."


Media contact: Julia Ravenscroft, Communications Manager: [email protected]/ +44 7958 184 695

Notes to editor

  • A detailed summary of the preliminary ODA statistics for 2021 can be found here.