Donald Trump ran for President on the concept of “America First.” What does this mean in practice for his governing philosophy and foreign policy? Drastic cuts to foreign aid expenditures, namely, the money the U.S. sends to other countries for humanitarian, developmental and economic reasons. This made us wonder how much foreign aid the U.S. currently sends overseas and where the money is going, so we created a new viz.
We compiled data from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) for 2016, the last year for which numbers are available. USAID keeps track of how much money U.S. taxpayers send overseas, what activities we spend it on, and why. We changed the proportions of a world map to represent the countries receiving the most money (the larger the country appears in the viz, the more money it receives). We also color-coded each one according to the purpose of the funds. Mapping USAID activities in this way shows you exactly how and why the U.S. sends money overseas.
First off, you can see a lot of large, red countries on the map from the Middle East, where the U.S. spends billions of dollars each year to reduce conflict, maintain peace and promote stability. This is because foreign aid tends to follow U.S. troop deployments. In fact, the number one and number two recipients of aid—Iraq and Afghanistan—remain major theaters of combat for hundreds of U.S. soldiers. Israel, the third highest recipient on our list, continues to be a strong U.S. ally. President Trump is considering whether to refer to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, so we suspect the $3.1B Israel receives is likely safe from cuts. In total, the U.S. spends more than $18.3B in conflict reduction.
The second obvious trend in our map is a group of medium-sized pink countries, representing American expenditures for health and population measures across Africa in countries like Kenya and Ethiopia. Taken as a whole, these countries account for $7.2B in expenses. The third most expensive category is for emergency situations, like earthquakes and floods, totaling $6.1B.
At first glance, when you read that the U.S. is sending billions of dollars to other countries, it seems like a ton of wasted money. The total budget for USAID in 2016 that we’ve accounted for here represents $36.1B. Is that a lot of money for an economy with a GDP of $19.5T? What if you consider that President Trump’s budget for the Defense Department alone costs $639B? If these expenditures prevent future conflicts and keep people from starving, perhaps it’s money well spent.
With those caveats in mind, here are the top ten recipients of USAID funds for 2016, broken down to the exact dollar amount.
- Iraq: $5,281,179,380 (for conflicts, peace and security)
- Afghanistan: $5,060,306,051 (for conflicts, peace and security)
- Israel: $3,113,310,210 (for conflicts, peace and security)
- Egypt: $1,239,291,240 (for conflicts, peace and security)
- Jordan: $1,214,093,785 (for conflicts, peace and security)
- Kenya: $1,143,552,649 (for population policies and reproductive health)
- Ethiopia: $1,111,152,703 (for emergencies)
- Syria: $916,426,147 (for emergencies)
- Pakistan: $777,504,870 (for conflicts, peace and security)
- Uganda: $741,326,448 (for population policies and reproductive health)
The United States sends billions of dollars overseas for a variety of different reasons, but when you look at this list it’s clear that many of these are poor and war-torn places. None of the top twenty countries are even located in the Western Hemisphere. Regardless if you think these are smart investments or wasted dollars, it’s a good idea to know where and why the government spends this much on the other side of the planet.
Data: Table 1.1
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