By Magdalena Mis
LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Development aid given by rich countries rose to a new high in 2015, mainly because of an increase in funds spent on hosting and processing refugees, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) said on Wednesday.
Official development assistance (ODA) reached a record $131.6 billion in 2015, an increase of 6.9 percent in real terms from 2014, the Paris-based international think-tank said.
Funds spent on hosting and processing refugees in donor countries more than doubled in 2015, reaching $12 billion and making up 9.1 percent of ODA, an increase from 4.8 percent in 2014, the OECD said.
But OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said most donors had avoided diverting money from development programs to cover the costs of the European refugee crisis.
The rise in spending on refugees in donor countries did not have a significant impact on development programs as half the donors used money from outside their aid budgets to cover these costs, the OECD said.
"These efforts must continue," Gurría said in a statement. "They also need to develop long-term options for meeting future refugee costs and the integration of refugees in our societies."
At the same time, they should ensure that ODA reaches those countries and people that need it the most, he added, welcoming an increase in aid for the poorest countries in 2015.
European networks of major aid agencies Eurodad and CONCORD Europe raised concerns that the ODA increase was due largely to the increase in spending on refugees in donor countries.
But the OECD said that even if these costs were excluded, net ODA in 2015 still grew by 1.7 percent in real terms.
After several years of decline, bilateral aid to the least developed countries increased by 4 percent in real terms last year from 2014 to a total of $25 billion.
"It's promising to see aid to the poorest finally starting to increase," Adrian Lovett, interim deputy chief executive for advocacy group ONE Campaign, said in a statement.
"But extreme poverty must be tackled with the same sense of urgency that Europeans have shown in supporting refugees. We can and must do both."
The OECD said a survey of donor spending plans through 2019 suggested that aid to the world's poorest countries would continue to rise.
Of the 28 members of the OECD's Development Assistance Committee, the United States remained the largest donor by volume in 2015 with $31.1 billion, followed by Britain with $18.7 billion, Germany, Japan and France.
Only six donors - Denmark, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Britain - exceeded the United Nations' target of spending 0.7 percent of national income on development aid.
(Reporting by Magdalena Mis, editing by Tim Pearce. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)