What Can Foreign Aid Accomplish?

Charles Kenny cuts through Republican and Democratic party spin:

Aid works best not when it aims to achieve such sweeping goals as democratization or economic growth, but when it’s channeled into things that can actually yield tangible results. In fact, foreign aid has helped save millions of lives, been instrumental in getting millions of kids into school, and helped build water and sewage lines, roads, and electricity networks. Take, for instance, what development economist Michael Clemens hascalled “the biggest, best story in development”—the incredibly rapid decline we’re seeing in child deaths in Africa. 

In Kenya from 2003 to 2008, the proportion of kids dying before the age of 5 fell from 12 percent to 7 percent. Thanks to the declining mortality rate just during that period, 63,000 more Kenyan kids born this year will live to their fifth birthday. And World Bankresearch suggests the spread of insecticide-treated bed nets to fight malaria—most provided through aid programs—played a huge role in that. The number of nets in use in sub-Saharan Africa climbed from 5.6 million in 2004 to 145 million in 2010, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).