Politicians sometimes find it hard to persuade their electorates of the value of international aid. Opponents argue that charity should begin at home. But new research shows that the national interest could be best served by a public-spirited approach that meets real needs.

The 2019 Principled Aid Index, compiled by the London-based think tank Overseas Development Institute (ODI), also found that the most generous donor countries also tend to be the most principled in the way they give aid.

The index assesses the 30 rich nations who make up the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) against three criteria: the extent to which their aid is targeted at actual need; the degree to which it contributes to addressing problems that can only be solved by global cooperation; and how little of the aid is tied to the donor’s commercial or strategic interests.

Principled Aid scores

Image: ODI

Using this approach, Luxembourg is rated the most principled aid donor, followed closely by the UK and Sweden. Ireland and Norway complete the top five nations in the index. Italy is the lowest performing G7 country in the rankings at number 20 while the US, where the administration is reviewing US aid priorities, ranks at number nine.

ODI says that donors actually serve their national interest better by not tying aid to their own priorities. Principled aid, it argues, alleviates suffering and achieves global development goals, which makes the world safer and more prosperous.

All of the top three nations meet or exceed the UN’s recommended level of 0.7% of gross national income for official development aid (ODA). Denmark, which also exceeds the UN aid target, came 11th in the rankings because of a low score on the global cooperation measure.

The report noted that the four DAC donors from the Asia Pacfic area all ranked in the lower half of the table due to their strong regional focus even though they scored well on global cooperation. ODI says donors should prioritise aid that complies with the principled aid goals and avoids “short-termism, self-regard and unilateralism”.

Last year the OECD warned that aid from DAC donors had levelled off and in some cases fallen dramatically. For example, Spain’s economic crisis had reduced its ODA from 0.46% of GNI in 2009 to 0.19% in 2017. But non-OECD donors such as China and the UAE were making up some of the shortfall.

Official development aid from all donors 2000-2017

Image: OECD

In a report published last year, examining progress on implementing the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the OECD’s Secretary General Angel Gurría said that rising global income and wealth inequalities put global development gains under threat. He urged countries to renew strategies and investments to ensure that no nation was left behind.