Hacking German foreign aid (guest post)

German foreign aid map, from http://www.maptivism.net/oda-ger/index.html

German foreign aid map, from http://www.maptivism.net/oda-ger/index.html

In a guest post for the Online Journalism Blog, Christiane Schulzki-Haddouti explains how participants at an open data event helped crack open data on German aid spending. This post was originally published in German at Hyperland.

How does the foreign aid of Germany support other countries? The Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) releases no details, although about 6 billion euros is made available for aid every year. Now the Open Knowledge Foundation in Germany has broken down the data – with the unintended help of the OECD.

Until now it was a mystery to the German public which countries benefit, and to what extent, from their government’s spending on foreign aid: the BMZ publishes only a list of the countries that receive aid (PDF). It was also not known which particular sectors in these countries were being supported.

For the political scientist Christian Kreutz, member of the Open Knowledge Foundation Germany, the BMZ database for development aid was just disappointing:

“The relevant information is scattered, little data is available in open formats and a breakdown of financial data such as project expenses is not yet published.”

An institutional workaround

In the course of the Open Aid Data Conference in Berlin, participants decided to tackle the situation. They noted that there has long been a public database at international level which explains the expenditures at a larger scale: the BMZ regularly reports its data as part of “Official Development Assistance” (ODA) to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, better known as the OECD.

Now the data is also available on the website Aid Data.

For two days Christian Kreutz wrangled with the data sets, then he presented his first results on a new open-data map. More than half the ODA payments come from the BMZ, the rest come from other ministries. Kreutz concludes: “Hardly any country receives nothing.”

Surprising findings

Interestingly, not only classic developing countries are supported. The lion’s share goes to BRIC countries, namely Brazil, Russia, India and China which have profited from high economic growth for years.

Russia received around 12 billion euros in the years 1995 to 2009, China and India around 6 and 4 billion euros respectively.

Current sites of conflict receive quite a lot of money: Iraq received 7 billion euros, with the majority coming from debt cancellation. A similar situation is found in Nigeria and Cameroon.

In comparison Afghanistan and Pakistan receive only about 1.2 billion euros.

Even authoritarian regimes benefit from German development aid: Syria received around 1 billion euros. A large proportion of the money is spent on debt relief as well as water and education projects.

Interestingly, however, some European states received more money: Poland got 2.8 billion, mainly going into the education sector.

EU aspirants Serbia and Turkey received 2 billion euros each.

Payment information was also combined with data from the Economist on democratic development. Here a kind of rule of thumb can be recognised: countries which are less democratic are encouraged.

Egypt, for example, not only received support for water projects and its textile industry, but also for its border police – by an unspecified federal ministry.

BMZ is opening up

The new aid data map does not break down numbers by donors yet. But it could do so, as the detailed OECD data supports it.

Christian Kreutz has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the BMZ to get further data. But the ministry is already showing signs of movement: a spokesperson said that project funding data will be published soon on the ministry’s website.

The interesting question is how open and accessible the BMZ data will be. Recipients of ODA funds can not be inferred directly from the OECD database. Open data activists hope that the BMZ will not hide the data behind a restrictive search interface to prevent further analysis, à la Farmsubsidy.

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