Saturday, March 31, 2012

Boiling potatoes in South Sudan

"You cannot boil potatoes without a cover" is the advise that a senior government officer from South Sudan gave us. She was referring to the way we were planning our collaboration with University of Juba. Short training courses are very unlikely to help students, because they are not adequately prepared from the basic education received in their respective bachelors... this is not coming as a surprise, but definitely is the concept defining our visit to Juba.

During the whole week, the university was closed, given clashed between students that started during a football match and that ended with the intervention of the police and SPLA. This was a very bad timing for us in terms of making difficult to meet professors and visit the campus, but it is has been very interesting in providing us with direct evidence of the real problems faced at the university. It is not just about the ethnic clashes that partially motivated the riots, but also about the lack of students ID, accommodations, teaching facilities and even enough food for them. Again, this is not coming as a surprise.

What it is more a surprise is the fact that the Government has recently founded 3 new universities in other states, and that some of the good staff from U.of Juba is leaving to them. Why to do that? It comes as a political measure, but it is just boiling even more raw potatoes, given regional universities have even lower capacity and infrastructure. Most of them are updated vocational schools. Even worst, the government was aiming to create even more universities, but luckily the minister of higher education (a very bright geologist that switched to sociology given his experiences in the civil war) stopped this (for the moment) trying to emphasize the improvement of the existent institutions. In the meantime, no technical schools have been created and most of the technicians participating in the impressive growth of Juba are foreigners.

Even U. of Juba was definitely reallocated from Khartoum just last year, leaving behind most of their assets and an important part of the staff, still some of the professors are very well prepared and have the willingness to provide good quality education... I hope we will be able to help them in the process!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Homo Economicus at war?

I expect that in my 10 days in Juba I will be able to at least start understanding a bit of the complex, lengthy and  far from finished conflict in the area of the ancient Kingdom of Kush.

I have been reading interesting reflexions that hopefully will help me...

Friday, March 23, 2012

When water projects don’t deliver: new evidence from Yemen

This post starts a series of notes from guest bloggers about papers presented at the CSAE conference 2012Tobias Lechtenfeld (University of Göttingen) summarizes the findings of a joint paper with Stephan Klasen, Kristina Meier and Johannes Rieckmann about the evaluation of a program that provides piped water in Yemen.  

While the world is still celebrating the achievement of the MDG on access to save water, very little is known about whether piped water schemes really lead to improved health outcomes. We don't want to spoil the MDG celebrations, but the health impacts seem limited. Take the World Bank's in-house evaluation department IEG: after reviewing hundreds of water projects worth tens of billions of USD from the past decade, IEG concludes that "evidence of improved water quality is rare, as are indications of the improved health of project beneficiaries".

We have been working on a large scale project in Yemen that provides household connections to piped water and sewerage in provincial towns in different regions of the country. Yemen is a very dry country where water resources are systematically overused - just like most other countries in the Middle East and North Africa.What came as a big surprise is that diarrhea and other health outcomes actually increase in the treatment group, especially among up to 5 year old children. This negative health impact appears to be caused by frequent interruptions of water supply. During interruptions pollutions builds up in the pipes, and the reduction of water pressure leads to an intrusion of pollutants. In addition, some households also begin using traditional water sources (although mixing alone does not explain why the treatment group is worse off than the control group).

The project was implemented without choice among beneficiaries, meaning that project areas are fully connected. That makes it a lot easier to use quasi-experimental methods, since we don’t need to worry about self-selection. At the same time, progress reports from the time of construction revealed selection effects that occurred during project implementation. We argue that these are exogenous to health outcomes and use them as instruments.

Construction always started in the city center, so we use ‘Distance to Center’ as first instrument. The ancient Old City was also given preference, so we include ‘Age of House’ as second instrument. In addition, the labor intensive construction avoided digging trenches in streets built on hard rock, which yields our third instrument, ‘rocky ground’. Although the results are robust to excluding the second and/or third instrument, we also provide matching estimates, which confirm the overall picture. In addition, we use baseline data from a small household survey that was conducted as part of the feasibility study of the project to calculate the Diff-in-Diff effect. While all these methods come with some caveats that are discuss in the paper, we hope that the mix of methods provides convincing evidence on the robustness of these health impacts.

So what goes wrong? We derive a number of hypotheses that provide alternative explanations of water pollution that are not directly related to piped water. We also hired a laboratory to conduct some 10,000 water quality tests in wells, pipes, water storage tanks and drinking cups. The tests include hard indicators, such as e.coli, but also rather soft measures, such as total dissolved solids (TDS). We show that much of the pollution occurs in the pipes. Nevertheless, a substantial part of water pollution also happens within households.

Several policy conclusions emerge, which we also discussed in several workshops with experts from donor agencies before the release of the full evaluation report . Most importantly, investments in piped water supply should not be made when reliable water supply cannot be guaranteed. In such cases engaging with existing networks of trucked water vendors (or designing public standpipes with chlorination devices ) might generate better health outcomes at lower costs than piped house connection. Second, water purification at point-of-use is crucial when we want access to save water to translate into better health outcomes.

Tobias Lechtenfeld  is a research associate at the Chair of Development Economics, University of Göttingen, Germany. 

Klasen, Stephan, Tobias Lechtenfeld, Kristina Meier and Johannes Rieckmann (2012). Benefits trickling away: The health impact of extending access to piped water and sanitation in urban Yemen. Courant Research Center Discussion Paper No. 110, University of Göttingen, Germany

Thursday, March 22, 2012

On the way to Juba

Next week I will be visiting Juba University for a fact finding mission with a very multidisciplinary team from Frankfurt University. So I hope to be posting my impressions about the newest country in the world!

While I thought that going to South Sudan was a novelty, at the CSAE conference I met many people that have been there, working for different donors, NGOs and Government organizations. I particularly enjoyed the presentation by Munshi Sulaiman, from BRAC, about a RCT to evaluate a food assistance program. The results of the paper suggest that the program did not meet its originals goals but still had many positive effects in various other outcomes for ultra poor households in Juba, without creating disincentives to work for the adults:

Food assistance is one of the most common forms of safety net programs in post‐conflict
situations. Though there are strong humanitarian arguments for such programs, they are
often criticized on the grounds of their possible influence on creating disincentive to work and on crowding out of private transfers. While there is a relatively large amount of empirical research on social protection in stable contexts, it is hardly researched in post‐conflict situations. Based on a randomized evaluation of a food‐for‐training program implemented in Southern Sudan, this paper estimates these effects. We do not observe any effect of food transfer on the hours of work or the type of the economic activities of the adult members. However, there is a significant negative impact (about 20‐25%) on per capita household income. This decline in income mostly comes about through reduction in child labor. We also do not find any indication of crowding out of private transfers for the participants. This is most likely due to the extent of private transfers being very low to begin with. We find that short term food transfer assisted the households to build durable assets, mostly in housing, which is a means of spreading the gain from a transfer over life‐cycle.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Trade at the Extensive Margin and Civil Wars in Africa

This weekend, the 2012 CSAE conference will start. Not just the best conference about anything related to economy in Africa, it is also the biggest Development conference in Europe (many people present studies about Asia and LAC as well). The keynote speakers and presenters are fantastic and the Oxford environment provides a mystic touch (also gives me the opportunity to visit Hi Lo one more time...)

I will be presenting a paper about the increase in trade at the extensive margin after the end of civil wars in Africa. My coauthor Dick Kamuganga has insider knowledge about the two main issues of the paper: he worked at the Ministry of Tourism, Trade and Industry of Uganda and also was fighting the rebels in the North.

We actually started thinking about this when writing a policy paper about trade policy in Uganda. One fact that was very striking in the trade data was the increase of Uganda's exports to Burundi, Rwanda and Sudan, all neighbors that recently had finished severe civil wars. While the amount was not too big compared to total exports, the number of different products exported was impressive. Sure, part of the story comes from re-exports to landlocked countries, but there is more that that.

Is the increase in trade at the extensive margin a general trend in post-conflict countries? We test this hypothesis using bilateral trade data disaggregated in 5,000 products for 47 African countries exporting to 191 potential markets around the world, in a sample period of 1995 to 2009. We  first show that, after controlling for unobserved heterogeneity at the country-pair/product level, the probability of exporting a new product to a new destination is an increasing function of the years the exporter finished a war. The first years after the conflict are particularly intense in terms of new exports:

An important issue in our estimation is inference. In the paper we show different samples, defined in order to control the quality of reported data. In the less demanding specification we have around 11,500,000 observations and in the most demanding around 500,000, given our dependent variable is at country-pair/product level. With all this observations, everything we put in the regression turns out to be significant if we assume standard errors are independent. But clearly this is not the case here. We first cluster the errors at dyadic level (as most previous studies do) and still find nice confidence intervals for years after the war. Nevertheless, if we do two-way clustering errors at the country level, the intervals get really wide (but the dummies are still jointly significant). 

We extend our estimation to include exports to post-conflict destinations (like the Uganda->Rwanda case), and find spillovers to neighboring countries: an increase in the probability of exporting a new product with the number of years that the destination country has ended a civil war.

We hope to be providing convincing evidence of new economic benefits of peace: export diversification and regional integration.

Monday, March 12, 2012

KONY 2012: Poverty pornography 3.0

I am seriously thinking in change the name of this blog and call it "the road to hell is paved with good intentions", since every time I think there is something worthy to be written, this dreadful proverb is the first click in my mind.

Of course the target now is KONY 2012. Let me just say that this video comes very timely after the last post, about the use of audiovisual as tool for academic research and impact evaluation. When I was talking about the dangers of soap operas for serious policy design in development issues, it was KONY 2012 what I had in mind... but maybe is even worse. This can be poverty pornography 3.0:

v1.0 Bag man (bogeyman, el hombre del saco)

This is the oldest and a classic still nowadays. If you don't eat your food, the bag man will come and take you with the children of the street...

v2.0 Live Aid: Rockstars take pictures with starved kids.

It is a very good thing to create awareness on these issues, revolve the conscience of nihilists teenagers and unite people to donate money to problems like famine and post natural disasters. But the view is simplistic and usually do not address the roots of the problem, often creating massive support for the wrong policies, causing more harm than good. More on this here and here.

v3.0 KONY2012: V for vendetta, facebook and the good cowboys.

Already too many people have write about this, so I just want to refer you to Chris Blattman's analysis of the topic: yesterday and 3 years ago. In the case you are new in the blogosphere,  he is not just the best academic blogger in aid and development issues, but also an expert in child soldering in Uganda.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A (unbiased) picture is worth a thousand words

Very interesting post from David Mckenzie about the (mis)use of pictures as complementary data for the evaluation of grants to microentrepeneurs in Ghana.

Not quite the same, given we did not have a real experiment, but for the 2008 Economic and Social Progress Report of the IADB, where the topic was social exclusion, we integrated videos as case studies. The main goal was to have cases coming directly from the people that suffer the exclusions, so we did an open micro-documentary contest ("The faces of exclusion") in Latin-America, and received around 120 films from all Latin-american and Caribbean countries. The winners can be watched here.

Since then, I have always been thinking about how to integrate audio-visual in impact evaluations, particularly how to really have videos or pictures as an unbiased tool for evaluation, instead of a (deeply biased) "soap opera".

I wonder if having short videos, with pre-defined characteristics will work better than pictures in the setting described by Mckenzie, in terms of given a more general overview of the situation.

It would be great to hear from someone that had used videos not just as a complement to show the setting of a project, but as part of the data for the evaluation itself.

PS: When I left the IADB, and was ready to go for my PhD in Geneva, people from the World Bank approached me to repeat the micro-documentary contest for a study about the effects of global warming. I had doubts about following a career as a film producer or a doctoral student. I chose the latter, maybe wrongly....

At the WB they finally implemented the contest, with same format as we did in the IADB. Here the results: