Development finance statistics

Getting Closer to the Core - Measuring Country Programmable Aid


Building on earlier analyses on core development aid, the new concept of country programmable aid was introduced in 2007 to provide a better estimate of the volume of resources transferred to developing countries. 

The brief entitled "Getting Closer to the Core - Measuring Country Programmable Aid"asks: what is the definition of this concept, how useful is it, and what can be done to make it better?


Read the full brief (pdf, 198 kB)


What is country programmable aid?

As a subset of official development assistance, country programmable aid (CPA) is the portion of aid that each donor can programme for each recipient country.

It takes as a starting point data on gross official development aid (ODA) disbursements by recipients but excludes spending which 

  • is inherently unpredictable (such as humanitarian aid and debt relief)
  • entails no flows to the recipient country (administration, student costs, development awareness and research and refugee spending in donor countries)
  • is usually not discussed between the main donor agency and recipient governments (food aid, aid from local governments, core funding to international NGOs, aid through secondary agencies, ODA equity investments and aid which is not allocable by country)
  • does not net out loan repayments, as these are not usually factored into aid allocation decisions. CPA, in short, tracks the portion of aid on which recipient countries have, or could have, a significant say and for which donors should be accountable for delivering “as programmed”. CPA outflows from multilaterals to recipient countries are measured directly in this definition.

Overall, for members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee, CPA is roughly a little over a half of their gross bilateral ODA.


How useful and significant is the CPA definition?
It’s not perfect:

  • CPA measures aid from the donors’ perspective
  • Still included is technical co-operation, which in many cases does not follow recipients’ procedures
  • Costs for expatriate experts are often claimed by civil society organisations to be an inefficient use of scarce donor resources and to pose indirect costs for counterparts
  • CPA allows for project-specific donor contracts with NGOs, which often escape host government scrutiny
  • Relief on previously serviced debt should be counted back in, as it generates predictable cross-border benefits
  • In fragile states there may be a case for adapting the CPA definition to include humanitarian assistance, given that this represents a large part of the total aid package to these countries for long periods
  • Further work is required to improve the comparability of bilateral and multilateral shares of CPA.

But CPA has its benefits:

  • CPA provides a low-cost basis for transparent forward planning by recipients and donors - although confidentiality requirements by a few still reduce their in-country usefulness to decision makers
  • Actual performance by donors can be compared to previously stated intentions and hence improve accountability
  • It helps aid transparency. CPA captures well the main cross-border aid flows to recipient countries and has been tested against country-level information and found to provide a good approximation of the overall flows expected to appear in country aid information systems
  • It is useful for analysing concentration across and within countries and agencies
  • It is a useful way of comparing in-country financial impact across donors.

What more can be done?

  • The quality of reporting should be a high priority: the quality of analyses on CPA reflects the quality of the reporting
  • Perceived limitations, such as “technical assistance” at reported value, should be addressed
  • Other adjustments to CPA, e.g. adding back humanitarian assistance or subsets of debt relief for alternative policy contexts, are relatively straightforward. All such limitations should be debated and addressed, as CPA is a practical measure that is in place to promote “real aid”


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