Climate change is a major threat to sustained economic growth and wellbeing in the Global South. To what extent does official development assistance (ODA) strengthen recipient communities’ capacity to cope with climatic extremes? Here, we investigate whether inflow of development aid mitigates adverse health impacts of subsequent drought among children under 5 years of age, drawing on survey data of nearly 140,000 respondents across 16 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in combination with georeferenced data on World Bank-sponsored ODA projects and historical weather statistics. A coarsened exact matching analysis reveals little benefit of development aid on child nutritional status under normal meteorological conditions. However, among children exposed to drought, prior aid allocation is associated with significantly reduced weight loss. While the merit of ODA in facilitating long-term growth remains debated, this study finds consistent indication that multilateral development aid improves recipient communities’ capacity to cope with future drought.