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Look who's saving the world: BRICS pump up foreign aid

The so-called BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — are upping their foreign assistance by leaps and bounds at a time when traditional donors’ aid budgets are frozen.

By Elizabeth DickinsonCorrespondent / March 26, 2012

An Indian farmer stands behind the Taj Mahal in the northern Indian city of Agra in this file photo.

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Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates

Western donors are no longer the only significant providers of international aid as emerging powers are extending their outreach abroad.

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For more than a half-century, Western donors have dominated international aid. Rich countries such as the United States, Canada, Britain, and Japan have sent resources, technical expertise, human capital, and ideas to help countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia develop economically.

But over the last half-decade, the traditional flow of money has begun to shift dramatically, according to a report released today by Global Health Strategies Initiatives, an international nonprofit. The so-called BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — are increasing their foreign assistance by leaps and bounds at a time when traditional donors’ aid budgets are frozen or even decreasing.

Traditional donors still vastly outspend their peers in the BRICS. But as the BRICS begin to play a larger role, they stand to reshape not just the budgets but the entire philosophy of international aid. While aid efforts in the past have often been conceived and designed in Western capitals, BRICS countries are refocusing on approaches and innovation conceived in and made for the global South.

“Rather than seeing [beneficiary countries] as grantees, they are more likely to see them as partners,” says Sridhar Venkatapuram, a lecturer at Cambridge University and contributor to the report.

Of course, like traditional donors, the BRICS also bring their own baggage to the table. Aid tends to align with geopolitical interests and focus on areas that are linked to the countries’ domestic economies or priorities. But Western countries have long had a monopoly on using development assistance to curry favor. It’s only natural for the world’s rising powers to get into the game.

Double-digit spending growth

Between 2005 and 2010, Brazil and India grew their foreign aid spending by more than 20 percent. China and South Africa both upped their assistance by about 10 percent. Russia, which had increased its own spending earlier in the decade, now devotes about $500 million annually to development spending overseas.

Over the same period, the foreign aid budget of the United States grew just 1.6 percent. The aid budgets of Britain, France, and Germany all grew slower than 5 percent annually. To codify their increasing efforts, BRICS countries will consider a proposal by India to unify development efforts and create a “BRICS Development Bank” — an analogy to the World Bank, long dominated by Western nations — when they meet for a summit in New Delhi on March 28 and 29.

Among the most promising aspects of the BRICS increased development assistance are their own recent domestic experiences combating similar troubles, the report argues. Public health challenges persist on a large scale in all five countries, but so too do examples of success.

“[Common] experience in a way puts the BRICS and the grantees on the same side in dealing with challenges,” says Dr. Venkatapuram. “The lessons and insights shared by peers can potentially be more relevant and effective.”

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