From Nate Silver’s blog, an invaluable resource for statisticians and other people interested in data:
The amount of development aid per capita, in terms of donors and recipients has risen dramatically over the last 30 years – using 1975 as the approximate end of the direct colonial period with the independence of most Portuguese colonies – and small but perceptible increases in human well being have been seen in least developed countries (those who rely the most on aid). (source)
He doesn’t claim, nor should he, that the former is necessarily or exclusively the cause of the latter. Official development aid (ODA) may help countries achieve development, but there’s no universal agreement on that (read Bill Easterly’s blog for instance, or the writing of Dambisa Moyo). What is clear, however, is that specific types of development aid help to solve specific types of problems (such as malaria for instance). Just looking at total amounts of aid given or received isn’t going to tell you much about the usefulness or effectiveness of aid. Large total amounts aren’t necessarily better than small amounts.
The following chart illustrates total development aid flows from all donors to “Least Developed Countries” (or LDC), or those countries who have a human development index (or HDI) of less than 0.5, using constant 2007 US dollars, on a per capita basis [per capita of receiving countries, FS]:
The large increases in total aid flows have resulted from several trends: First, more donors are present, as oil-rich middle eastern states and others have since the 1980s begun to provide a significant portion of development aid. Second, OECD countries have increased both in number and in disbursals. Large disparity occurs between countries in terms of per capita aid, however, largely driven by high-profile events such as conflicts, natural disasters, and political commitments to domestic populations by former colonial powers.
Since independence and decolonization, and assisted by development aid and strengthening of domestic economies and social systems, the least developed countries have made slow but steady progress toward human development:
More statistics on development aid are here. Why this is a human rights issue is explained here.