Think We Shouldn’t Support International Development? Think Again.

It’s no secret that U.S. spending on international development is a touchy subject for some. Certain people view this portion of our federal budget as money wasted on projects with questionable results that create long-term dependency. Others are concerned with the sheer amount of money spent to help people in other countries; money that they feel could be put to better use on home soil. 

Development is a Success

Although we don’t hear about it often enough, funding for international development does go a long way toward creating sustainable improvements in the poorest parts of the world. For instance, a recent report by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) indicates that, over the last 15 years, 34 million children’s lives have been saved by international development assistance, and there is good reason to expect more of those kinds of results in the future.

Between 1990 and 2012, the global child mortality rate was cut almost in half, such that today 17,000 fewer children die each day than 25 years ago, thanks to better nutrition, health care, and standards of living. Since 2000, more than 14 million deaths have been prevented through measles vaccines and today, 90% of children around the world receive tuberculosis immunizations. These are huge accomplishments that should be taken as confirmation of the value of investing in development assistance. 

What is Development’s Return on “Investment”?

As it turns out, the U.S. doesn’t spend nearly as much money on international development as most people assume. What percentage of the budget would you guess goes toward international development? If you guessed somewhere between 10 and 20 percent, you’re in line with most other people’s thinking. In a 2014 poll, respondents guessed, on average, that the Federal Government spends 26 percent of its budget on international development.

As it turns out, the Federal Government spends less than 1 percent of its budget on assisting other countries! Granted, one percent of $4 trillion is still a sizeable sum, but, proportionally speaking, the U.S. allocates much less to international development than many other countries. In fact, the United States’ percentage of contribution is lower than 19 other countries in terms of development assistance. In 2014, the US contributed 0.19 percent of its GNI (gross national income) while Canada contributed 0.24 percent, the UK contributed 0.71 percent, and Sweden contributed more than any other country at 1.10 percent. 

Development assistance provided to poorer countries actually provides a significant return on investment because of the relatively lower costs involved. Saving the life of a child under five in an upper-middle income country such as Thailand costs about $10,016 in health expenses, but in a low-income country such as Haiti it costs only $4,205. Putting development funds to use in the poorest parts of the world allows governments to receive the best value for their money, making the biggest global impact possible.

Of course, the fact that development spending is even spoken about in terms of an investment strategy is, when you really think about it, unsettling. When you realize that the numbers correspond to actual human lives, to children who can be saved from a tragic and easily preventable death, the question shifts from “Why are we spending so much?” to “Why aren’t we doing more?”

There are so many interventions that are inexpensive and life-saving. Especially in the sector of child health, vaccines and nutrition programs in developing countries cost less than in higher-income countries, thereby allowing us to save a significant number of lives with a small economic impact.  For instance, a measles vaccine for a child in a developing country costs as little 30 centsWho wouldn’t give 30 cents for a life-saving vaccine?

Development is Not a Handout

Sometimes, creating positive change in a developing country is as simple and inexpensive as distributing mosquito nets for beds or building a well. But it is also much more than that.  People must be empowered to better their own circumstances and create sustainable improvements. There must also be “country ownership”—a concept that has emerged in the past few years that recognizes that a recipient country’s government must be willing to embrace and implement a development strategy in order for it to be successful.  Country ownership helps to ensure that investments made now will continue to drive progress forward long after a project is completed.  So, the budget for international development is not, as many might call it, a handout. It is a hand-up—assistance for countries to get on their feet and take charge of their own circumstances.

Planet Aid believes strongly in a country-ownership model of development. We support projects that mobilize communities to create change for themselves and provide them with the knowledge and tools to continue that progress for years to come. Just last year, Planet Aid projects reached nearly 1.4 million people with HIV/AIDS prevention services, established safe water for 10,000 households, provided 65,000 children with school lunches, and so much more.

Development Needs Your Support

Clearly, international development assistance makes a positive difference, so it’s time the public learns the truth and stands behind efforts to help those in need find their path out of poverty!  Today, you can access data about U.S. international development spending online to see how much money is being spent and how it is allocated. This information is helping to increase transparency and dispelling some of the myths regarding the scope and nature of international development.

Help us spread the word about development’s past and continued accomplishments and support Planet Aid today. Your monetary and clothing donations fund projects that are directly impacting the lives of millions. Find out more here.  


See All Blog Posts