The World According to USAID

Higher resolution file here.

This animated cartogram, created  by William and Mary student Ashley Ingram and blogged by Mike Tierney at AidData’s The First Tranche, shows aid flows from the US government to the rest of the world from 1985 to 2008.

To produce these maps, the geographic area of a country is replaced by the dollar value of its aid, so that the size of a country fluctuates from year to year depending on how much money the US sends it for development assistance. At the same time, the countries are shaded lighter or darker according to per capita income levels.

As the Cold War ends, the relatively rich countries of the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe appear and then disappear from the map. Light blue Sub-Saharan Africa starts out tiny and cramped throughout the 80s and 90s, and starts to fill out in the mid 2000s.

Most strikingly, the Middle East dominates the map throughout almost the entire period, with Egypt appearing as the largest country for many consecutive years. Jordan and dark blue Israel are also very visible (although I’m not sure why aid to Israel is included since it’s not traditionally considered development assistance in the data sets that AidData pulls from). In 2003, Iraq explodes onto the map right in the center, and the map begins to take on the contours of the world around us today, with economically devastated Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan as the twin hotspots that absorb so much US attention and resources.

Besides being fun to play and re-play, the map helps the viewer step back, look at the big picture, and identify broad geographical trends (provided of course that the underlying data is good enough to make these broad strokes accurate, which is always a good question to ask).

Is US aid doing better at getting to the world’s poorest countries? What geopolitical forces shape US aid spending? How long-lasting are the effects of wars, upheavals, and political change on US priorities? As Mike points out, maps like this don’t give definitive answers, but they may spark creativity in thinking of new good questions.