Working Paper

The Foreign Aid Effectiveness Debate: Evidence from Malawi

Date Published

May 3, 2015


Rajlakshmi De, Charles Becker



De, Rajlakshmi and Charles Becker. 2015. The Foreign Aid Effectiveness Debate: Evidence from Malawi. AidData Working Paper #6. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.


Understanding the role of foreign aid in poverty alleviation is one of the central inquiries of development economics. To augment past cross-country studies, this paper offers a first step toward addressing the absence of disaggregated estimates of the allocation and impact of foreign aid. Newly geocoded aid project data from Malawi are used in combination with multiple rounds of living standards data to assess the allocation and impact of health aid, water aid, and education aid. Allocation is modeled using living standards variables, geographic indicators, and other aid bundling. Significant, positive effects of health aid on decreasing disease severity and of water aid on decreasing diarrhea incidence were estimated through both IV and PSM difference-in-differences approaches. An appropriate instrument for education aid could not be determined, but propensity score matching methods indicate a potential positive effect of education aid on school enrollment. Different aid donors’ allocation behaviors are also assessed. The aid impact results suggest that a sub-national framework provides sufficient granularity for detecting the impacts of foreign aid on poverty alleviation in Malawi and that policymakers and governments should use geographic living standards information to inform future aid allocation.

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Charles Becker

Charles Becker

Research Professor of Economics at Duke University

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