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Shanta Devarajan's blog

Irrigation and climate change

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While attention has, appropriately, been focused on getting food and medicines to the victims of the famine in the Horn of Africa, many observers are asking about longer-term solutions, especially if droughts such as the current one become more frequent with climate change. One possibility is to expand irrigation. 

Currently, only about 4 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa’s arable land is irrigated; the rest is rain-fed, meaning it is susceptible to droughts and floods.  Yet, irrigated land can have yields that are up to five times those of rain-fed areas.  It must be the case that the costs of irrigation—capital, recurrent, administrative, political—are sufficiently high to outweigh these benefits.  But if you take into account the possibility of more frequent floods and droughts, which would make irrigated land relatively more attractive, does the benefit-cost calculation change?

Yes, South Sudan Can

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At the recent launch of the book, Yes Africa Can: Success Stories from a Dynamic Continent, someone asked whether there are any lessons for Africa’s newest country, South Sudan.  I can think of at least three.

1.It can be done.  Yes Africa Can documents a number of countries, such as Mozambique and Uganda, which emerged from civil conflict and sustained above-7-percent GDP growth for over a decade.  It also describes the well-known case of a mineral exporter, Botswana, that had the world’s fastest per-capita growth rate (7 percent) from 1966-99.   These case studies show that South Sudan, which is both a post-conflict country and an oil exporter, can also succeed.

Transfer mineral revenues directly to citizens—and avoid the resource curse

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My colleague Marcelo Giugale and I have an Op-Ed in today’s Guardian online advocating the direct transfer of mineral revenues to citizens. 

Mineral revenues typically go from the extracting company to the government without passing through the hands of citizens.  As a result, citizens do not scrutinize the expenditure out of these revenues as much as they would if it were financed by tax revenues.  The net result is misallocation of public spending, slower growth and even slower poverty reduction in many of these mineral-rich countries, such as Cameroon or Nigeria. 

Is Africa more vulnerable to oil price increases?

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As world oil prices rise to near the levels of 2008, and growth on the continent resumes to pre-crisis levels (as reported on Africa’s Pulse), a natural question to ask is whether Africa’s oil importers are becoming more vulnerable to oil price increases. 

A partial answer is given by a recent briefing note by my colleague Masami Kojima.

Vulnerability is determined by how much of a country's income is spent on oil imports. Looking at the period 2003-2008 (the latest for which comparable data are available), the study found that vulnerability rose in all oil importers (except Mauritania) and even in some oil exporters such as Equatorial Guinea and Republic of Congo. Also, 15% of the income of Seychelles, Liberia and Sierra Leone is used to import oil. This is among the highest in the world.

Interestingly, despite a significant increase in the price of oil during that period, the rise in vulnerability happened because energy became more oil-driven in 24 out of 42 countries.

Human Rights and Human Development

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“Shanta, are you against human rights?” a colleague asked when she saw that I was arguing for the negative in a debate on “Is a concern for human rights needed to achieve human development outcomes?” 

Needless to say, my debate partner, Varun Gauri and I are not against human rights (Varun has written extensively on the subject), but we did argue—based on the evidence—that a concern for human rights was neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve health and education outcomes. 

Six non-obvious points about conflict, security and development

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Launched today, the 2011 World Development Report is on “Conflict, Security and Development.”  In making a presentation on its relevance to Africa to my World Bank colleagues, I counted six messages that are new and different.

1. 21st century violence is different from 20th century violence.
2. Conflict and violence are caused by a combination of weak institutions and external stresses.
3. Build good-enough coalitions to break the cycle of repeated violence.
4. Create jobs, even with second-best approaches that are inefficient and likely not sustainable.
5. Address external stresses alongside institution building.
6. International partners should do more good than harm.

More on each on them:

Can randomized control trials reduce poverty?

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If you give milk to schoolchildren and they perform well in school, how do you know it’s because of the milk, or because the children were high achievers anyway, or went to better schools? 

By randomly choosing the children who receive the milk, and comparing the outcomes of this “treatment group” with a “control group” (those that didn’t receive milk), we can get a more accurate measure of the program’s impact than if we were to simply compare the children’s performance before and after they drank milk. 

Economic Policy in Africa’s Youngest Country

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UPDATE: Here is a copy of an interview I gave to Otieno Ogeda, from the Pioneer newspaper in Juba.

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I felt truly privileged to participate in a workshop in Juba on “Growth and Sustainable Development in the new Republic of South Sudan,” organized by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. 

South Sudan, which becomes independent on July 9, 2011, faces extreme challenges and opportunities.  Devastated by civil war, the country has high and deep poverty.  The poverty rate is 51 percent. In a recent survey, among the assets of the population is “a pair of shoes”: among the poorest 20 percent, only 37 percent owned one. About 80 percent of the people earn their living from (mostly subsistence) agriculture.  Low levels of literacy (27 percent) translate to extremely weak capacity throughout.

Africa on the brink of a take off

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Dear friends,

Today we are trying something new.

I wanted to share with you the reasons why I think we can be optimistic about Africa's development prospects, but rather than writing something up, I thought of using video.

Please, share your feedback, not only on whether you agree that Africa is on the right track, but on the video itself. If you like it, I would like to do more of this short video "Development Talks" with the readers of this blog.

Let me know what you think.

 

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