Changing Statistics: How We Report Official Development Assistance Data

Posted on 15/10/16 by Amy Keegan (WaterAid UK)

Every six months at WASHwatch we carry out a statistical overview, updating all the statistics that are currently on the website and if necessary reviewing the methodology of how we interpret them. These statistics are then used by our website users to gain a better insight into WASH at country level; for advocacy, campaigning and to better inform programmatic design. 

When doing our most recent update we re-examined the way in which we interpret Official Development Assistance (ODA) and made a decision to change our methodology to produce a more accurate depiction of how aid is being dispursed. This data comes from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Credit Reporting System (CRS).

After extensive review, we made three key changes in the way we calculate our numbers: 

1.Changing what we define as ODA to the WASH sector

Previously when calculating the statistics on ODA given to the WASH sector we used the data on the CRS to include ‘Water Supply and Sanitation TOTAL.’

We have now changed our methodology to only count some selections within that overall category. In the current data set we now count: Water Supply and Sanitation – Large Systems; Water Supply – Large Systems; Sanitation –Large Systems; Basic Drinking Water Supply and Basic Sanitation; Basic Drinking Water Supply; Basic Sanitation; Education and Training in Water Supply and Sanitation. We made the decision to exclude: Water Resources Policy/Administrative Management; Water Resources Protection; River Basins Development and Waste Management/Disposal.

The exclusion of the options that focus more on water and supply management means that the current figure that we show more accurately represents spending on WASH in countries.

2.Changing the figures from commitments to gross disbursements.

Previously the figures showed the amount of ODA commitments that were made by countries. Increasingly as the gap between commitments and gross disbursements (aid money that has been actually received in the country) grows. Using commitment figures doesn’t accurately reflect what is happening on the ground, therefore we are now committing to only present information on ODA that has been disbursed within countries.

3.Changing the presentation of the data from an average of three years to actual spend in one year.  

Previously, when presenting this data WASHwatch used a three year average of ODA as the spending figure for each year. However, now that we are using gross disbursments as opposed to commitments, showing the actual figure of what was happening that year reflects the yearly changes that can occur. Therefore we will now be presenting the actual figure from each year, including any fluctuations that may show. 

But how much can our interpretation of the statistics affect the view of what is happening in the world?

Using Afghanistan as an example we can see the difference in figures shown on WASHwatch after these three changes have been made to our methodology. Figure 1 below shows the differences between the figures using the old and new methodologies.

Before and After Blog.pngFigure 1: ODA Data on Afghanista in US$ from OECD-DAC

Figure 1: ODA Data on Afghanistan in US$ from OECD-DAC

For the total ODA received the difference in figures from the old to new methodologies range from 3% more to 21.1% less. The average difference over the eight years shown is that the old methodology shows 6.6% more than the new numbers. For the total ODA going to WASH received the difference in figures range from 12.4% to 82% more. The average difference over the eight years shown is that the old methodology shows 47.9% more than the new numbers.

Below are two sets of the same two graphs showing ‘Total Official Development Assistance (ODA) Received ($USD in millions)’ and ‘Total Official Development Assistance (ODA) Received Spent on Water and Sanitation ($USD in millions)’ Figure 2 shows the graphs using the data from the old methodology and Figure 3 shows the data from the new methodology.

WASHwatch ODA both.pngFigure 3: WASH ODA Graph Using New Methodology. Data from OECD-DAC.

Figure 2:Graph Using Old Methodology.                   Figure 3:Graph Using New Methodology

It is important to note that the countries that this change in methodology will make the most difference to areas that experience an emergency (conflict, political upheaval, natural disaster etc..) as it will show dramatic spikes and drops every year. 

As shown from the example of Afghanistan above, this change in methodology will make a difference to the statistics we display and therefore how we are interpreting what is happening in the world. 

This change allows us to continue to provide our users with the most reliable and accurate picture of WASH ODA around the world.  


Amy Keegan is a Policy Officer for Monitoring and Accountability at WaterAid UK. She tweets as @amy_keegan