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Poverty

Enhancing urban resilience in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez's picture
The World Bank’s City Strength diagnostics aim to measure a city’s capacity to address different kinds of shocks and stresses, from natural disasters and environmental vulnerability to health crises and social risks. The latest issue of the City Strength series focuses on Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s booming capital city.

In this video, Lead Urban Specialist Maria Angelica Sotomayor presents some of the key findings from the diagnostic, and explains how the World Bank is collaborating with local stakeholders to make Addis Ababa a stronger, more resilient city.

#4 from 2015: Bill Easterly and the denial of inconvenient truths

Brian Levy's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2015. This post was originally posted on October 22, 2015. It was also the blog post of the month for October 2015.
 

The Tyranny of Experts book coverIn his 2014 book, The Tyranny of Experts, Bill Easterly uses his rhetorical gifts to make the case for ‘free development’. In so doing, he takes his trademark blend of insight and relentlessness to a new level. But in this moment of history that has been described by democracy champion, Larry Diamond as a “democracy recession”[i], is it helpful to argue by taking no prisoners and not letting inconvenient truths get in the way?

Easterly, to be sure, communicates powerfully two big and important ideas. The first is that, as per his title, behind a seemingly technocratic approach to development are some inconvenient political realities. As he puts it:

The implicit vision in development today is that of well-intentioned autocrats advised by technical experts…. The word technocracy itself is an early twentieth century coinage that means ‘rule by experts’” (p.6)

In surfacing the implausible assumptions which underlie a world view of ‘rule by experts’, Easterly does us a service. One cannot engage effectively with today’s difficult realities on the basis of a vision of decision-making which ignores the inconvenient truths of self-seeking ambition, of contestation over ends among competing factions, and of imbalances of power which marginalize the interests of large segments of society. (Of course, as this essay will explore, many of these difficult realities arise – in different ways – in both predatory authoritarian and messily democratic settings.)

The second powerful idea is The Tyranny of Experts paean to freedom – “a system of political and economic rights in which many political and economic actors will find the right actions to promote their own development”.  (pp. 215-216). With eloquent libertarian rhetoric of a kind which Ayn Rand would no doubt have applauded, Easterly argues that:

we must not let caring about material suffering of the poor change the subject from caring about the rights of the poor”. (p.339)

Yes, but we also must not fall into a trap which parallels that of the technocratic fallacy – and let our high-minded advocacy of the rights of the poor blind us to the challenges of how to translate our rhetoric into reality. And it is here that Easterly’s Tyranny falls way, way short.

Poverty is falling faster for female-headed households in Africa

Dominique Van De Walle's picture

Living standards have risen and poverty has fallen considerably across Sub-Saharan Africa since the late 1990s. But are all groups sharing in the gains? In particular, what about Africa’s many female-headed households, often thought to be poorer. Have they been left behind?

Nearly one in four households in Africa are headed by a woman. To be sure, this figure is not the same in all countries; those in Southern Africa have substantially higher rates while households in West African countries are least likely to be headed by a woman. What is true in all countries is that female headship has been increasing. The data show quite clearly that the probability that a woman aged 15 or older heads a household has been increasing over time in all sub-regions and at every age (see the figure).

Policy to research to policy in difficult places

Humanity Journal's picture

This post was written by Alex de Waal, the Executive Director of the World Peace Foundation and a Research Professor at The Fletcher School. It is a contribution to an online symposium on the changing nature of knowledge production in fragile states. Be sure to read other entries by Deval Desai and Rebecca TapscottLisa Denney and Pilar Domingo, Michael WoolcockMorten Jerven.

UNAMID Police Officer Patrols IDP Camp in DarfurThere’s a commendable search for rigor in social science. But there’s also an illusion that numbers ipso facto represent rigor, and that sophisticated mathematical analysis of the social scientific datasets can expand the realm of explanatory possibilities. Social scientific researchers working in what the Justice and Security Research Programme calls “difficult places”—countries affected by armed conflict, political turbulence and the long-lasting uncertainties that follow protracted crisis—should be extremely cautious before setting off on this path.

There’s a simultaneous search for policy relevance: for bridging the gap between the academy and the executive. We want our research to be useful and to be used; we want policy-makers to listen to us. But we risk becoming entrapped in a self-referential knowledge creating machine.

The holy grail seems to be to emulate economists and epidemiologists, whose highly technical analyses of real world data—and in the case of the latter, double-blind clinical trials—set a gold standard in terms of methodological rigor, alongside a truly enviable record of influencing policy and practice. But before embarking on this quest, it would be advisable to examine what social scientific scholarship might look like, if it actually reached this goal.

Connecting the dots puts environment at the forefront of our biggest challenges

Isabel Saldarriaga's picture
Chad. Andrea Borgarello for TerrAfrica / World Bank

Halfway through the year, Paula Caballero, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice Senior Director at the World Bank, wrote that 2015 would be the year the world was going to connect the dots for sustainable development. And girl, was she right! 

The European refugee crisis: What we can learn from refugees in Sub-Saharan Africa

Philip Verwimp's picture

The thousands of people crossing the European borders in 2015 have attracted considerable media attention. While such an attention is welcomed, we do not hear much about the millions of refugees hosted in developing countries.

Developing countries host about 85% of the total number of refugees in the world. Although Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) also hosts refugees from other regions, the number of refugees originating from SSA follows closely those hosted in the region, suggesting that most SSA refugees remain in countries within the region (Figure 1).

There is no doubt that the logistical, institutional, and socio-economic challenges are even fiercer in developing countries. Focusing mainly on Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, we reviewed the recent literature to draw a few lessons in a new working paper, prepared as background to the Poverty in a Rising Africa report.

Year in Review: 2015 in 12 charts

Donna Barne's picture

Now that we've reached the end of 2015, it's clear this was a year of major milestones, emerging trends, and new beginnings. Among other things, 2015 marked a historic drop in poverty, a major climate change agreement, and record low child and maternal mortality rates. Take a look at what the data show.

1. The Global Poverty Rate Fell below 10%

Local elections in Pakistan: A chance to improve public services

Ming Zhang's picture
Discussing public services in Pakistan
Discussing public services in Pakistan. Credit: GSP/MDTF/2013
I arrived in Pakistan right after the third round of local elections held in most provinces on December 5.

​This was the first local election in 10 years in most places of the country. Voters elected council members of three tiers of local governments: district, urban councils, and union council/ward.

How will these elections impact the lives of average citizens?

International experiences have shown that the main benefit of elected local bodies is their closeness to citizens, which allows them to be much more responsive – although with sustained hard work -- to improving local services such as waste, water, sewerage and transportation.

In a report about managing spatial transformation in South Asia launched at the 3rd Pakistan Urban Forum, we highlighted that passing reforms aimed at revitalizing urban governance is critical to make South Asia cities more livable and prosperous (see chapter 3 of the report).

To that end, we identified three closely related "deficits" -- empowerment, resource, and accountability -- which, if tackled properly, could lead to improved local urban governance.

The recent local elections in Pakistan are important steps toward reducing these three deficits. The new local government laws, which were enacted in most provinces in 2013, started to re-empower local governments after the expiration of the earlier 2001 Local Government Act.
 

Who will fund poverty surveys in “Volkswagen” countries?

Johannes Hoogeveen's picture

It must not have been easy to be a statistician at Volkswagen. At least Martin Winterkorn, former CEO of the car company, may not have been very fond of them.
 
Independent researchers published data showing how cars produced by Volkswagen were anything but the “clean diesels” they were proclaimed to be. In fact, the cars were shown to be very polluting, pumping out up to 40 times the allowed level of nitrogen oxide. Statistics revealed the truth, and the once powerful CEO is now a person in disgrace who may have to spend time in jail.
 
Countries are not companies, and a country’s leader is not to be compared with the CEO. Still, at times, their behavior reminds one of the self-interested take on life one expects from the head of a profit-maximizing company but not from an official representing its people. Countries with such self-interested profit maximizing leaders, let’s call them “Volkswagen” countries, prefer their statistical systems to be underfunded and of low capacity. It prevents the false claims about the country’s successes from being uncovered.

Labor regulation in Zambia - Finding the right balance

Gibson Masumbu's picture

Labor reforms have been a key reform agenda in Zambia for quite some time. Experience on the ground shows that labor laws can have a significant impact on poverty and competitiveness. When laws have been loose, workers have been disadvantaged. When the government has tried to tighten the ropes, employers have been hurt. Therefore, finding the right balance is essential.

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