Data Deconstructed – US Foreign Assistance

Time for my weekly data set analysis. The choice this week is a breakdown of US foreign aid (loans and grants) to all the countries of the world. Of course, the data set is public public, this one is taken from

I’ve always been curious to know who the US lends money to and explore the data further.. But I think the the more interesting question is “Does the charity and all the goodwill US does have any effect and how much effect does it have?” (Thanks to Amaresh!). For instance you may loan billions of dollars to India for child health but did it affect India’s child mortality rates? It will be really cool to explore that and integrate more data sources to this one.

This week the plan is to explore the data set and then look into the broader influence of this data and merge it with other data sources set next week. I need to give this post 2 long-ish blog posts to do justice this time.

I digress a bit: Every week I will try to make the data analysis more challenging for myself. This week’s data set is larger and also I will be using Tableau Public to do some data exploration. Tableau Public is fun way to share open data visualizations, I totally recommend trying it out.

Let’s start the analysis. As done previously, I will start with formulating questions.

Before I do, let me take a quick look at the data set. The data set at first glance tells me there are more than 100 countries US has been generous to and also this data set is from the year 1946-2009 in more than 10 categories. Wow.

The areas I want to explore – I’m going to pick two here since I’m continuing this next week as well. All will be related to exploring the current data set.

1. What are the top 3 spending areas for US aid in the last 10 years?

2. Which are the top countries US gave money to last year? In the last 10 years?

The answers (and process):

Before I start, I’m going to share a visualization which will help you look and  understand the data better. In this one I put each category of spending and showed it on a world map . This way you can just scroll down, the labels will tell you where US has been spending money. This is one of those rare data sets which are so interesting to look at (just because so many interesting things stand out). One of the things that stood out for me is that how little US has given to China over the years. China of course over the years has not been as rich as Europe or Australia (who don’t need the assistance as much as them).

1.  For the first question, I came to these results by a) Introducing another variable in the data set which sums up all the spending over the last b) Segmenting the program name with the total money given. Here is the graph which shows that.

Looking at this graph (ignore the Title1, title 2) you realize that the major spending areas have been economic assistance, defense, food (everything under USDA), helping other countries cope with country specific problems (narcotics, refugee assistance) and broader philanthropy where I include child heath, helping with AIDS etc.

The top spending area has been-

1. Economic support assistance (It will be very interesting to understand how it has effected the GDP of the country, I might explore that next week as well). The US has nearly spent slightly above 16 billion in this area

2. The next highest spending is voluntary contributions to international organizations – just above 15 billion.

3. The third area of spending has been “Development Assistance” and also “Narcotics Control” . The US has spent almost 12 billion dollars in these two areas individually.

2.Now for the second question for which country did the US loan the most to a)last year b) n the last 10 years- I segmented again by country name and two variables 1. Money loaned in the last year 2. Money loaned in the last 10 years. Take a look:

Here is looks like the top 3 beneficiaries last year were 1. Afghanistan 2. Iraq 3. Pakistan! Not surprising at all. Probably should include a new category on “War against Terrorism aid”.

This also makes me wonder at this point, has the US economic assistance to other countries gone down because it decides to engage in war? This might prove that other countries (who heavily depend on US assistance) might be adversely affected by the war by not getting the assistance last year.. which we don’t know of. Another angle to explore next week.

And the top 3 beneficiaries overall were 1. Russia (over 8 billion) 2.Columbia (6.6 billion) 3. Jordan (slightly over 4 billion).

I hope this week you got a feel of the data and explored it! I will continue to drill into Childcare loans next week. Has the child mortality rates dropped in those countries where the US has been spending so much money in? Need to hunt more data for that one!

PS: Had an exceptionally hard time writing and structuring this post.. it took me 4 complete rewrites and I still don’t like it. Sigh.. Just decided to ship. Some days you just can’t write or draw.


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