Sebastian Mallaby [op-ed, July 4] points out that "many statistical tests don't find that aid [to developing countries] helps reduce poverty." Is this because the accepted goal of development aid is almost always economic growth? The rate of economic growth in developing countries is probably neither the right target nor the right yardstick of success.

Aid planners know that other measures indicate trends of economic well-being more directly. For instance, there are widely available, reliable data that track how many in a given population get adequate food daily; how many have a clean, secure water supply; the adult literacy rate; the percentage of children in school; life expectancy; and infant and child mortality, to name perhaps the most important.

The premise of most large-scale international aid is that growth will provide the means to improve these measures of well-being. However, private aid groups have achieved impressive results by channeling their resources into improving local agriculture, cleaning up water supplies, training healthcare workers, encouraging school attendance -- in other words, solving problems directly rather than expecting a possible rise in economic growth to solve them. Instead of chasing the chimera of growth, the giant international development programs should follow the lead of these successful private institutions.

Let's not make excuses for giving too little aid to developing countries.