COVID vaccines account for bulk of aid increase

Foreign aid from rose to an all-time high of US$179 billion in 2021 but the 4.4% rise was largely fuelled by controversial donated COVID vaccines, according to preliminary data collected by the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. [Project Last Mile/The Coca-Coal Foundation]

While foreign aid from countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) reached historic highs in 2021, data analysis shows this was primarily fuelled by donating COVID-19 vaccines, many of which were out of date or unusable.

Preliminary data published by the OECD shows that foreign aid from its 33 members reached $179 billion in 2021, a 4.4% increase in 2020.

“OECD countries have once again shown that they will step up and provide support to more vulnerable countries and people even in times of crisis,” OECD Secretary-General Mathias Cormann said.

“With the world now hit by a new humanitarian crisis following Russia’s unprovoked war on Ukraine, we must make additional efforts to help those developing countries that will be hardest hit by supply shortages and higher prices for food and key commodities,” he added.

However, the increase represents a very modest rise in terms of gross national income for all donor countries, from 0.32% of GNI in 2020 to 0.33%.

Only four EU countries– Luxembourg, Germany, Sweden and Denmark – reached the promise of committing 0.7% of GNI to aid.

COVID vaccines as aid

Around 80% of the total increase, 3.5% of total aid, resulted from COVID vaccine donations, equivalent to nearly 857 million doses for developing countries. Rules changed in February, allowing donors to include donations of excess COVID-19 vaccines in their figures.

These doses were not purchased in the interest of recipient countries, but in 2021 they still represented a total of $2.3 billion reported as official development assistance (ODA): 1.3 % of total ODA.

Aid campaigners point out that since these donated vaccines were surplus doses available only after wealthy countries had vaccinated their populations, they had hoarded vaccines. Furthermore, their inclusion becomes controversial as developing countries have benefitted from leftovers rather than generosity.

Data compiled by Eurodad found that if the cost of vaccines were excluded, ODA only grew by 0.6 per cent in real terms compared to 2020.

‘Vaccine apartheid’

Wealthy countries have been accused of practising ‘vaccine apartheid’ by hoarding vaccines and blocking a temporary waiver on the intellectual property of COVID vaccines that would allow developing states to produce their own generic versions.

Over 350 million vaccine doses came from hoarded stocks, and some were donated too close to their expiry date and were never used. Millions of doses were also delivered without syringes, making them almost useless.

Aid strain

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the destruction of Ukrainian towns and cities, coupled with the massive humanitarian effort to support millions of refugees, are expected to see donor countries adjust their aid budgets.

Rebuilding Ukraine after the Russian bombardment, as well as the costs from food insecurity resulting from wheat and grain shortages, will be a major drag on humanitarian aid budgets for at least the next twelve months. The World Bank has indicated that at least $50 billion of donor cash will be required.

In the meantime, since in-donor country refugee costs, which totalled $9.3 billion in 2021, count as aid, the efforts by EU countries to provide accommodation and support to an estimated 4.5 million refugees will all form part of humanitarian aid budgets.

Aid experts have warned that this could lead to longstanding crises in Syria, Afghanistan, Yemen and Ethiopia, the Sahel and elsewhere being starved of funding.

“The war in Ukraine poses a risk to future aid budgets. Aid is already being pulled from countries like Syria to fund the reception of Ukrainian refugees in Europe. We are left with the bizarre situation where European countries could become the largest recipients of their own aid,” said Jeroen Kwakkenbos, Oxfam’s EU aid expert.

[Edited by Alice Taylor]

Subscribe to our newsletters