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West African dance tune carries public health message about Ebola

There’s a new dance tune that’s caught on in Liberia and Guinea. It’s called “Ebola’s in Town.” The song is the creation of three Liberian musicians: D12, Shadow and Kuzzy of 2 Kings. And yes, the Ebola in the title is a reference to the Ebola virus. PRI’s The World’s Carol Hills explains, and discusses the good and the bad of this kind of song.

Low_cost_prosthetic_limbs

Making prosthetic limbs affordable to the masses

The fact is, prosthetics can change the course of someone’s life. But they’re usually prohibitively expensive — available only to the well-insured and the well-to-do. But a team of graduate students in Massachusetts say they’ve found a way to build artificial limbs for just a few dollars, potentially making these life-changing devices available all over the world. They’re on PRI’s The Takeaway.

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More mothers are choosing to give birth at ‘home’

Births started in homes, moved to hospitals and are now moving back to homes, at least in the developed world. More parents are choosing places that aren’t hospitals for giving birth — and that presents new risks and complications. A conversation on Oregon Public Radio’s Think Out Loud.

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Africa’s Data Revolution – Amanda Glassman

Is the revolution upon us? When it comes to data, the development world seems to be saying yes, Yes, YES! To look beyond the hype, I invited Amanda Glassman, a CGD senior fellow and director of our global health policy program, to join me on the show to discuss a new report from the Data for African Development working group that looks at Africa’s statistical capacity, warts and all. It turns out that the revolution may not be all it’s cranked up to be, and that well-intentioned outsiders—donors especially—are too often part of the problem.

A partnership with the African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, the working group found that in Africa such statistical fundamentals as taxes and trade, births and deaths, and growth and poverty are frequently outdated, inaccurate or simply unavailable. How badly out of whack? In recent months Ghana and Nigeria have recalculated the size of their economies and come up with GDP estimates that are more than two-thirds larger.

I ask Amanda if big data is going to solve these problems. Is there hope that Africa will simply be swept up in a big data tsunami?

Amanda has her doubts. In much of Africa, she says, statistical capacity is at such a standstill: it has remained unchanged for the last ten years according to the index of statistical capacity published by the World Bank.

“Certainly big data and new technologies are very exciting, and offer some really interesting opportunities to collect new data… On the other hand, if countries don’t have a national statistical system in place that to just produce the basics, they will be missing opportunities to harness these new capabilities and the opportunities to use big data.”

Why the lack of progress? Amanda says there’s plenty of blame to go around (she calls it “collective guilt”), specifically a mis-match between the priorities of African governments and the donors. Governments need sub-national data to help guide budgetary and policy decisions, she explains, while external donors often want national-level data to make allocation decisions across countries.

How to resolve this tension? The working group proposes a data compact that would be initiated by an African president or minister of finance and draw upon the support of interested external funders. The compact would be a means for all interested parties to agree upon a phased set of actions to address data problems, and a method for tracking progress. The compact could even take the form of a pay-for-performance endeavor (see CGD’s Cash-on-Delivery Aid proposal for one such example).

“The idea would be to say ‘we’re going prioritize some aspect of the building blocks (such as data on births and deaths) that we have not achieved in our country,’” Amanda explains. Compact participants would agree on measures of progress in the accuracy, timeliness and openness of that data. A big, high-level political commitment could be useful in mobilizing the necessary funding from a combination of donors and governments, she says.

We close our conversation with a look toward the post-2015 development framework. Will the working group’s findings and recommendations become a part of that ongoing debate? Absolutely, Amanda replies. “We’ll do our very best to let it be known that this would be a good idea. Certainly were engaged in the process and talking to all the different people who are involved.”

To learn more about the working group’s findings and recommendations, listen to the Wonkcast, see Amanda’s blog post, or read the report.


If China Sneezes, Will Latin America Catch Pneumonia? – Liliana Rojas-Suarez

My guest on this Wonkcast is CGD senior fellow Liliana Rojas Suarez, who serves as chair of the Latin American Shadow Financial Regulatory Committee (CLAAF). CLAAF is comprised of financial economists and former senior financial officials from the region who meet twice a year to study a current policy issue. They then issue a statement offering advice to policymakers in the region and others interested in Latin American financial regulatory issues—or just in the region’s overall economic health.

At their recent meeting here at CGD, CLAAF members considered the question: How would a Chinese Slowdown Affect Latin America? Liliana summarizes their conclusions—and recommendations for Latin American policy makers—in a blog post available here in english and en espanol.

Prefer to get your Latin American financial regulatory advice on the run, or perhaps while working out on the Stairmaster or stationary bicycle? We cover it all, and more, in this 22 minute Global Prosperity Wonkcast. Listen now, or download it for future listening.


West African dance tune carries public health message about Ebola

africa-map-wiki-Author-Hristov

There’s a new dance tune that’s caught on in Liberia and Guinea. It’s called “Ebola’s in Town.” The song is the creation of three Liberian musicians: D12, Shadow and Kuzzy of 2 Kings. And yes, the Ebola in the title is a reference to the Ebola virus. PRI’s The World’s Carol Hills explains, and discusses the good and the bad of this kind of song.


Deforestation by the Numbers – Jonah Busch and Kalifi Ferretti-Gallon

Spatially explicit econometric studies… say that five times fast.

My guests on this week’s Wonkcast are CGD’s Jonah Busch and Kalifi Ferretti-Gallon, who have conducted a meta-analysis of 117 such studies to discover what drives deforestation—and what actions slow or prevent it.

Their ambitious study, the first to use this approach on such a large scale, covers two-thirds of the world’s tropical forests. For those who want to cut to the chase, this CGD brief offers a succinct summary of the findings.

In the Wonkcast we discuss why a development-oriented think tank like CGD is tackling deforestation: because intact forests provide many benefits to poor people, and because deforestation is an important driver of climate change, which in turn undermines development efforts. We then unpack the study’s main findings.

Kalifi, who did most of the number crunching, explains the criteria for selecting the 117 studies included in the meta analysis, and how she and Jonah then distilled the many factors that may drive or slow deforestation into 40 variables.

The big take-aways:

“Keeping roads out of an area, making sure that road networks are planned in a way that connects people, gets them to market but doesn't open up new frontier areas of remote forests” helps to protect the forest,” Jonah tells me.

Similarly, designating protected areas has frequently been effective. While many of these are in remote or especially scenic areas, Jonah says the meta-analysis showing that they have been effective suggests that designating more protected areas in places that are subject to deforestation pressures holds promise.

Among the surprises: strengthening land tenure and community forest management projects—two popular approaches to slow deforestation—were not proven on balance to be effective.

“I was expecting to see that community forest management lined up with less deforestation,” Jonah says. “If this were the case it would be a nice win-win for local economic development and forest protection…But while there were slightly more cases where community forest management was associated with less deforestation rather than more deforestation, it wasn't a statistically significant difference.”

In contrast, he says, payment for ecological services, for example, by paying a community to protect a forest watershed, tended to work, although the approach is comparatively recent so there are relatively few studies of such efforts.

We end the Wonkcast with a discussion of the links between the findings of the new meta-analysis and REDD+, the global effort to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

For more on REDD+, see the CGD initiative Tropical Forests for Climate and Development, of which Kalifi and Jonah’s new meta-analysis is an important contribution.


Making prosthetic limbs affordable to the masses

Low_cost_prosthetic_limbs

The fact is, prosthetics can change the course of someone’s life. But they’re usually prohibitively expensive — available only to the well-insured and the well-to-do. But a team of graduate students in Massachusetts say they’ve found a way to build artificial limbs for just a few dollars, potentially making these life-changing devices available all over the world. They’re on PRI’s The Takeaway.


Migration’s Inevitability and Labor Mobility – Michael Clemens

In a recent study, CGD senior fellow Michael Clemens found that, contrary to popular belief, development in poor countries actually fosters more migration, not less. Migration is certainly a hot topic, and since these results challenge common assumptions about migration trends, I invited Michael to join me on the Wonkcast to discuss the implications of findings for US policy and for development agencies worldwide.

Michael’s research answers the question posed in the title of his new paper: Does Development Reduce Migration? Answer: No; at least not until quite late in the development process. As incomes rise, so does emigration until about $6,000-8,000 per capita GDP, at which point emigration begins to decrease.

Michael says that the relationship between increasing GDP and increasing migration is “synergistic.” As people in poor countries have more income, migration is both more interesting and they have the means to do it. “As your country develops, you can afford education, which helps you get abroad; you can afford plane tickets; you’re more likely to have connections with people in other countries,” Michael explains. By contrast, “if you’re in rural Niger and very poor, certainly in the abstract you have a strong economic incentive to go abroad, but you likely lack the ability and social networks that you need to realize that ambition.”

I say this seems pretty intuitive to me—it’s what I observed as a reporter living Taiwan and elsewhere in East Asia during the region’s economic take-off. Michael assures me that the finding will nonetheless come as news to many aid philanthropists and agencies that “use development to slow down migration, so that people don’t need to leave.”

What to do? Michael’s advice to policy makers is that since migration will inevitably rise along with incomes they should look for ways to ensure that migration helps to foster development, for example, by ensuring that skills certifications and pensions are portable across countries and that remittances are easy and cheap to send.

Michael takes strong issue with the recommendations of noted development economist Paul Collier, in his new book, Exodus, that in order to foster development the migration of skilled people from poor countries should be forcefully discouraged. Such measures necessarily involve “forcing people to not realize their dreams and ambitions,” Michael says. A better response, he says, would be finance arrangements that enable destination countries to pay for the training of those they will recruit, as Michael has proposed in a recent policy paper: Global Skills Partnerships: A Proposal for Technical Training in a Mobile World.

While such mechanisms are still mostly in their infancy, it makes sense to establish and expand them now, since the mobility transition is likely to last for many decades, in some cases well more than a century.

According to Michael, for very poor countries that manage a sustained growth rate around 2 percent, it would take over a century to reach the transition point of about $8,000 per capita GNP. We end with a discussion of the implications of Michael’s research for US policy towards Mexico and other Latin American countries. Tune in to hear that, and much else we couldn’t squeeze into this summary!

My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast and to Kristin Sadler for a first draft of this blog post.


More mothers are choosing to give birth at ‘home’

World map

Births started in homes, moved to hospitals and are now moving back to homes, at least in the developed world. More parents are choosing places that aren’t hospitals for giving birth — and that presents new risks and complications. A conversation on Oregon Public Radio’s Think Out Loud.


Malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa not getting needed life-saving drugs

africa-map-wiki-Author-Hristov

A research study last year showed that a simple antibiotic can reduce a severely malnourished child’s chances of dying by nearly 40 percent. But getting that antibiotic to the children who need it is easier said than done. Anders Kelto reports from Malawi for PRI’s The World.


The Commitment to Equity Assessment (CEQ) – Nora Lustig

Many governments try to reduce poverty and inequality through a mixture of taxes, transfers, and public services. Individual policies, such as taxation or cash transfers, are frequently evaluated on how well they address these goals. But the overall impact of a country’s fiscal policy package on poverty and inequality has rarely been subject to systematic analysis—until now.

Nora Lustig, a non-resident fellow at CGD and a professor at Tulane, has set out to close this gap with the Commitment to Equity Assessment or CEQ. I invited Nora to tell us about this new endeavor.

Nora explains that the CEQ is both a virtual toolbox—that is, a common analytical approach—and a global network of researchers who are applying this approach in a series of country case studies. CEQ partner institutions include Tulane University, the Inter-American Dialogue, and now CGD, which is helping to bring the approach and the case study findings to a broad international audience. These materials will be collected on a CEQ landing page that is part of the Center’s ongoing work on inequality.

The assessment initially focused on Latin America, the region Nora knows best. But with encouragement and funding from the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the CEQ is growing rapidly to include countries in other regions, among them South Africa, Tanzania, Ghana, Tunisia, Armenia, Jordan, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia.

What exactly can we learn from such assessments? Nora offers Brazil as an example. Brazil is reputed to be well-run and pro-poor in its policies, especially for direct taxes and cash transfer programs such as Bolsa Familia. However, throwing consumption taxes into the mix considerably darkens the picture of equity. Because Brazil lays heavy taxes on the goods that the poor purchase frequently, such as rice and beans, the CEQ analysis shows that overall taxation policies actually worsen poverty. (Interestingly, they do not worsen inequality, listen to the Wonkcast or read this new CEQ/CGD paper to find out why!)

I also ask Nora whether reducing the tax burden on the poor and near poor, as the CEQ analysis suggests should be done, may have reduced incentives for these people to hold their governments accountable, thereby undermining the quality of governance. Listen to the Wonkcast for Nora’s intriguing reply, and examples of countries where the CEQ is already beginning to shape the policy dialogue.

My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast, as well as providing a first draft of this blog post.


How a simple van in India can save a mother’s life

In 2007, the government of Madhya Pradesh, with the help of UNICEF, started a free ambulance service just for pregnant women. Called Janani Express (“janani” means “mother” in Hindi), the service transports pregnant women and new mothers from their villages to health facilities and back. In 2013 alone, one million pregnant women have benefited from the service, say UNICEF India doctors. Rhitu Chatterjee reports for PRI’s The World.


Scarcity: Why Having So Little Means So Much, an Interview with Sendhil Mullainathan

My guest this week, behavioral economist Sendhil Mullainathan, is a Harvard professor and non-resident fellow at CGD who is transforming how people think about poverty, and what can be done to support poor people in improving their lives. Sendhil was recently at CGD to discuss his new book, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, in which he explains that limited bandwidth—the ability to stand back from one’s life, assess trade-offs, and make rational choices—is a problem for all of us, but an especially difficult problem for those who live daily with scarcity.  

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Sendhil’s wonderful book begins with an explanation of why busy people, like him, get overcommitted, then lack the bandwidth to take the seemingly simple steps (like saying no to new commitments) that are necessary to address the problem. He goes on to explain the problem of scarcity with the analogy of a business traveler who attempts to pack for a trip with a too-small suitcase, spending precious bandwidth—mental energy—trying to decide what to place in the bag, only to inevitably leave out something important. I shouldn’t have been surprised then that Sendhil arrived for our interview late, his belongings spilling out of a tiny, over-stuffed suitcase.

It was an apt moment for a man who takes care to stress, in his writing, in the Wonkcast, and in his subsequent talk to a packed CGD audience (video here) that the affluent and the poor have the same behavioral responses to scarcity—it’s just that the poor experience scarcity much more frequently and profoundly. “Something that kicks in when we have too little. And that same force kicks in whether you’re a busy CEO [for whom time or space in a suitcase is scarce] or a poor person living on the equivalent of a dollar a day. That psychology is the same and universal.” 

The tendency to become preoccupied with the thing we lack can be useful for meeting a deadline or stretching a dollar to make rent, but it also has a more pernicious aspect that causes us to neglect the important in favor of the urgent. Sendhil offers the examples of a CEO distracted by thoughts of an overdue project while spending time with her kids and a rag picker who rents her cart, even though setting aside a little money each day to eventually buy one would enable her to cut costs and increase her income.

The CEO’s and the rag picker’s dilemmas affect everyone, regardless of economic status, but Sendhil emphasizes that the inability to focus on important, long-term investments or tasks has an even larger and more negative impact on the poor:

“There are studies on sleep psychology, where they have people pull all-nighters with literally no sleep and then they see the effect of that on IQ and bandwidth,” which not surprisingly are quite substantial, Sendhil explains.  Other studies have shown that poor farmers awaiting their harvests, short of food and stretching what little cash they have until the crops come in, experience about 3/4 of that effect. “So it’s as if the poor are pulling an all-nighter every day. This is a huge effect,“ Sendhil explains.

Sendhil believes the magnitude of this problem should influence the design of programs intended to help poor people, but often the bandwidth of the poor is treated like a free resource. For example, some early conditional cash transfer programs imposed multiple requirements on recipients without regard for bandwidth required to keep track of them all—or the consequences of shifting scarce bandwidth from one priority to another.  Similarly, HIV prevention education programs have sometimes been scheduled for the pre-harvest period, based on the notion that poor farmers seem to have plenty of time on their hands, not recognizing that their minds will be preoccupied with scarcity.

Sendhil explored the implications of this research in a 2012 CGD policy paper, Behavioral Design: A New Approach to Development Policy, co-authored with Saugato Datta, that predated the book but touches on many of the same themes, exploring the development policy implications in greater depth. Saugato was a guest on the Wonkcast when that paper was first published, and was among the panelists at the recent CGD event.  

My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast and for a first draft of this blog post.


Wonkcast Music Poll

Love the music on the Global Prosperity Wonkcast? Hate it? Now’s your chance to help pick our next theme music. CGD communications assistant Aaron King and I have selected three possibilities from Free Music Archive. Listen to the excerpts below and vote for one. First tune with 100 votes (or, failing that, the tune with the most votes after two weeks) will be our theme music until we get around to running another poll. One poll participant will be selected at random to receive a Center for Global Development coffee mug and long-sleeved shirt. Thanks for listening to the Wonkcast!

  1. Céu & Chão by Bonifrate
  2. Hold Me Back and Make it Monstrous by Expwy
  3. Tchakare Kanyembe by Noise Problems


For some Syrian refugees in Turkey, begging is their only hope

It’s more than three years into the conflict and Syrians are still pouring out of their war-torn homeland. In Turkey, the number of Syrian refugees is fast approaching 1 million. Only around a quarter of them are living in refugee camps. In the struggle to make a living, more than 100,000 refugees have made the journey to Istanbul, where they sell tea in parks or work at restaurants — if they’re lucky. But others are finding no way to survive other than begging for money on the street. Dalia Mortada reports for PRI’s The World.


In typhoon-hit Tacloban, some families have moved into the local prison

Immediately after Typhoon Haiyan barrelled into the Philippines in November, many inmates left the Leyte Provincial Prison in the city of Tacloban. They didn’t exactly escape. In the chaos after the storm, the prison turned a blind eye as a few hundred inmates, along with most of the guards, walked out of the gates. They wanted to check on their homes and loved ones. Most of them returned after a few of weeks — and some brought their families back with them. Aurora Almendral reports.


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