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February 28, 2011

Ethiopia is Top UK Aid Recipient

Britain has chosen Ethiopia to be its biggest recipient of development aid during the next four years. Several donor governments are ramping up assistance as Ethiopia sets ambitious goals for eradicating poverty and hunger.

Ethiopia will receive $2 billion in British development assistance in a four-year period.

Howard Taylor, head of the British aid program in Ethiopia, says the decision to boost assistance was based on need as well as evidence that the country has made major strides in recent years.

Ethiopia Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says his country's economy has grown at a rate of 10 percent or more during each of the past seven years.  International aid agencies question the method of calculating the figure.  But Mr. Meles says that even double-digit growth would not be enough because Ethiopia's population has increased faster than the country's rate of economic growth.  The population now stands at around 80 million people.

Taylor says that although the accuracy of the government data can be debated, there is no doubt that Ethiopia’s economic growth is accelerating. "The precision of the data is disputed, and we have an ongoing conversation ourselves with partners, including the government itself, about some of that data.  But the headline issue, which nobody disputes, is that there has been from a low base tremendous development progress in Ethiopia over the last eight to ten years or so," he said.

Taylor says recent studies show that Ethiopia receives far less aid than it needs - half as much in assistance per capita compared to other African countries.  He attributes that partly to donor concerns about the killing of anti-government demonstrators following Ethiopia’s disputed 2005 election.

"It’s a fact that overseas aid to Ethiopia did decrease after the 2005 election.  It has since increased.  I think the size of the population in Ethiopia is a key factor in why the per capita aid is low because Ethiopia is so populous and still growing so fast," he said.

A poverty index released by Oxford University and the United Nations last year ranked Ethiopia as the world's second poorest country, after Niger.  But the Ethiopian government’s latest five year economic plan includes the ambitious goal of achieving self-sufficiency in food.

Taylor says international donors are increasing their aid budgets, even as they struggle with their own economic troubles. "They’re certainly in the poorest 10 countries in the world.  But I think that’s an obvious argument for continued support and increasing what we do here.  We are trying to help the millions of very poor, very vulnerable Ethiopians improve their lives," he said.

Britain and the European Union are among Ethiopia’s biggest aid donors.

The United States is the largest bilateral aid contributor to Ethiopia, averaging more than $1 billion in assistance per year since 2007.  During that time, U.S. aid has included more than $1.5 billion in food aid to prevent famine and alleviate chronic food shortages.