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What’s the latest in development economics research? A round-up of 140+ papers from NEUDC 2017

David Evans's picture


Did you miss this year’s Northeast Universities Development Consortium conference, or NEUDC? I did, unfortunately!

NEUDC is a large development economics conference, with more than 160 papers on the program, so it’s a nice way to get a sense of new research in the field.
Thankfully, since NEUDC posts submitted papers, I was able to mostly catch up. I went through 147 of the papers and summarized them below, by topic. If a paper you loved or presented isn’t in the rundown, feel free to add a brief summary in the comments. (Why 147 instead of 160? I skipped a few macro papers and the papers that weren’t posted.)

These links should take you to your topic of interest: Agriculture, cash transfers and asset transfers, credit and insurance, crime, conflict, violence, and war, culture, norms, and corruption, education, elections and political economy, firms, governance, bureaucracy, and social capital, health (including WASH), jobs (including public works), marriage, methodology, migration, mobile phones and mobile money, poverty, inequality, and shocks, psychology, taxes, and traffic.

Raising the watermark in Tanzania’s growth and poverty reduction picture

Bella Bird's picture



Tanzania is not a country one would ordinarily expect to find in the ranks of the water- stressed. It hosts, or shares, at least eleven freshwater lakes, and is home to countless rivers, including the Great Ruaha.

Tanzania is relatively blessed with its water resources.
 
Yet over the past 25 years, the country’s population has doubled to about 53 million and the size of its economy has more than tripled. As a result, Tanzania’s per capita amount of renewable freshwater has declined, from more than 3,000m3 to about 1,600m3 per person today—below the 1,700m3 level that is internationally considered to be the threshold for water stress.

Trinidad from space: using satellite imagery for better urban management

Ana I. Aguilera's picture
Foto aérea de Trinidad, Bolivia. / Banco Mundial.

The first time I heard of the Bolivian city of Trinidad was exactly 11 months ago. Although Trinidad is the 10th largest city in Bolivia, I confess I did not know much about it. The Ministry of Development Planning (MPD) had commissioned the World Bank a study on intermediate cities in Bolivia, and in my early research I learned that this was a colonial city founded in 1686 during Jesuitic Missions. Similar in its architecture and climate to the southeastern cities of my native Venezuela, Trinidad is extremely vulnerable to flooding that affect thousands of families and businesses each year.

Project monitoring in fragile places does not have to be expensive

Andre Marie Taptue's picture



Conflict and violence are shrinking the space for development at a time when donors are scaling up their presence. To reconcile the conflicting objectives of staff safety with a need to do more (or a greater volume of investment), and doing it better (through higher quality projects), many development workers have started to rely on third party monitoring by outside agents, an approach that is costly and not always effective.
The case of Mali demonstrates that alternatives exist.

Less than a decade ago Bank staff could travel freely around in Mali, even to the most remote communities in the country. But today, a mix of terrorism and armed violence renders field supervision of projects impossible in many locations.

To address this challenge—and in the wake of the 2013/14 security crisis in northern Mali—a monitoring system was designed that is light, low cost, and suited for monitoring in insecure areas, but also problem oriented and able to facilitate improvements in project implementation.

The Legacy of Saman Kelegama

Sanjay Kathuria's picture
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation.
Saman Kelegama, a Sri Lankan economist and the Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS Sri Lanka) died prematurely in June 2017. He was a champion of deeper South Asian cooperation. Credit:  Institute of Policy Studies

I first met Saman in the early 1990s in Delhi.  Over the years, our paths diverged.  When I re-engaged on South Asia, I ran into Saman again. We re-connected instantly, despite the long intervening period.  This was easy to do with Saman—soft-spoken, affable, a gentleman to the core.  He bore his considerable knowledge lightly.  

Despite his premature passing away in June 2017, he left a rich and varied legacy behind him. I will confine myself to discussing his insights on regional cooperation in South Asia, based on his public writings and my interactions with him.

Saman was a champion of deeper economic linkages within South Asia. He was also pragmatic. 

Along with a few other regional champions, Saman, as the head of the Institute of Policy Studies in Colombo, helped to kick-start the “South Asian Economic Summit”, or SAES, in Colombo in 2008, to provide a high-profile forum for dialogue on topical issues, especially South Asian regional integration. It is remarkable that the SAES has endured, without any gap. The fact that the policy and academic fraternity meet with unfailing regularity, despite on-and-off political tensions in the region, is testimony to its value.

Saman repeatedly stressed that Sri Lanka has been able to reap benefits from the India-Sri Lanka FTA (ISFTA), contrary to the general belief. His arguments were powerful: the import-export ratio for Sri Lanka improved from 10.3 in 2000 (the start of the ISFTA) to 6.6 in 2015; about 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s exports to India get duty-free access under the FTA, but less than 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s imports from India come under the FTA (since India provided “special and differential treatment” to Sri Lanka).

Pipeline to Work: Including persons with disabilities in skills development and employment projects

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
Photo: Dane Macri/The Advocacy Project via Flickr CC
Photo: Dane Macri/The Advocacy Project via Flickr CC.

The relationship between poverty and disability goes both ways: disability increases the risk of poverty, and the conditions of poverty increase the risk of disability.

Yet, little attention has been given to the employment readiness of persons with disabilities. This is of concern given that the employment rates of persons with disabilities are a third to half of the rates for persons without disabilities, with unemployment rates as high as 80%-90% in some countries.

[Learn more: Disability Inclusion]

Disability is a complex, evolving, and multidimensional concept. Currently, it is estimated that 15% of the world population experiences some form of disability, with prevalence rates higher in developing countries. As opportunities for sustainable income generation are directly tied to a person’s access to finance, markets, and networks, persons with disabilities usually face significant challenges in accessing these, due to:

  • non-inclusive regulations and policy,
  • lack of resource allocation,
  • stigma and societal prejudice,
  • low educational participation, and
  • inability to access their own communities and city spaces.
To continue building inclusive cities, research tells us that countries cannot achieve optimal growth by leaving behind a large group of their citizens – persons with disabilities – with economic losses from employment exclusion ranging from 3 to 7 % of the GDP. We also know that when you combine gender and disability, the challenges facing women with disabilities compound. Women with disabilities are more likely to earn less than men with disabilities and they are affected by inaccessible sanitation, smaller social and professional networks, and gender-based violence – see, for example, labor force data from the UK.

We need to do much more to ensure that women with disabilities are mainstreamed into projects that seek to empower women as entrepreneurs and change agents.

Expanding equitable opportunities for persons with disabilities is at the core of the World Bank’s work to build sustainable and inclusive communities. So, what might a disability-responsive moonshot look like for development projects addressing work for persons with disabilities? Here’s what we’re doing at the World Bank:

These winning photos capture the future of sustainable cities

Xueman Wang's picture
The premise behind the Sustainable Cities photo competition was simple. We wanted to learn what people around the world “see” when they hear the words “sustainable cities.”
 
The submissions – and we at the Global Platform for Sustainable Cities received more than 90 entries from over 40 countries around the world – are very revealing.

What the photographers tried to communicate was a need: both the urgent need for infrastructure that leads to more resilient, sustainable cities, or a need to aspire to greener ideals of building sustainable communities for all.

There is no better day than today, World Cities Day, for us to share with you the 10 finalists – including 3 winners and an honorable mention for climate action – of the photo competition.

In the winning photo by Yanick Folly, one can practically feel the chaos of a city in Benin, the smell of exhaust fumes as cars crawl up alongside motorcycles and pedestrians down narrow alleyways.

Yanick Folly (Benin) – Winner
Growing day by day, our world is always moving. Just see the big vibrant Benin market. #SustainableCities

The photo is also a reminder that cities are made of people. Any set of solutions for “sustainable cities” will have to make sense to a city’s inhabitants, who tread its streets daily.
 
In other photos, the aspiration is palpable. 

Many of the photographers are nationals of developing countries from all over the world. Yet quite a few of them shared photos of cities we regard as environmentally friendly: Singapore, Amsterdam, London, and Paris... We saw many photos of parks in developed countries, and heard the same message: These green spaces and pedestrian walkways are what we want in a city.
 
Adedapo Adesemowo (UK / Nigeria)

From a waste dumping ground for oil, tar, arsenic, and lead to an Olympic park. #SustainableCities
Many photos also reflect the vast difference between the aspirational city, and what most people actually live with.
 
We received photos of what many of us may categorize as rural areas, but we should reconsider these preconceptions: some “cities” in developing countries are little more than makeshift towns.
 
So, it is all the more reason why we are excited about this winning photo by Oyewolo Eyitayo from Nigeria. You might think this is an uneventful photograph of a typical urban suburb. Except that the half dirt roads are lined with solar panels.
 
Oyelowo Eyitayo (Nigeria) – Winner
Going solar is a simple & impactful #climateaction that can help combat climate change. #SustainableCities

Why sustainable mobility matters

Hartwig Schafer's picture
Photo: Mariana Gil/WRI
In the 1960s, the vision of future mobility was people with jet packs and flying cars – we believed these innovations wouldn’t be far off after the moon landing in 1969. Obviously, the reality in 2017 is somewhat different.

Today, we have congestion in cities, rural areas cut off from the rest of the world, and too many people without access to safe, efficient, and green transport. This stifles markets and hinders people from the jobs that will help them escape poverty. Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And perhaps the most tragic reality is this: that approximately 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents. Young people, those between the ages of 15-29, are the most affected by road crashes. This heartbreaking and preventable loss of life should be a clear signal that road safety matters.

At the same time, how we change transport is vitally important and will impact generations to come.

Measuring South Asia’s economy from outer space

Martin Rama's picture
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.
Economic growth is a key concern for economists, political leaders, and the broader population.

But how confident are we that the available data on economic activity paints an accurate picture of a country’s performance?

Measuring Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the most standard measure of economic activity, is especially challenging in developing countries, where the informal sector is large and institutional constraints can be severe.

In addition, many countries only provide GDP measures annually and at the national level. Not surprisingly, GDP growth estimates are often met with skepticism.
 
New technologies offer an opportunity to strengthen economic measurement. Evening luminosity observed from satellites has been shown to be a good proxy for economic activity.

As shown in Figure 1, there is a strong correlation between nightlight intensity and GDP levels in South Asia: the higher the nightlight intensity on the horizontal axis, the stronger the economic activity on the vertical axis.
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity
Figure 1 Nightlight intensity increases with economic activity

However, measuring nightlight is challenging and comes with a few caveats. Clouds, moonlight, and radiance from the sun can affect measurement accuracy, which then requires filtering and standardizing.

On the other hand, nighlight data has a lot advantages like being available in high-frequency and with a very high spatial resolution. In the latest edition of South Asia Economic Focus, we use variations in nightlight intensity to analyze economic trends and illustrate how this data can help predict GDP over time and across space.

Social inclusion: Let’s do things differently to end poverty!

Maninder Gill's picture



On October 17, 2017, End Poverty Day, 33 World Bank offices in Africa came together to talk about poverty and social inclusion. We were excited of course, but were totally unprepared for what we saw!  The 750 “in-person” participants in the field offices could not get enough of the discussion. Every country made brief but powerful, and highly inspiring, presentations on social inclusion. They highlighted the work of a host of actors—civil society organizations, local communities, faith-based organizations, youth groups, government agencies, and World Bank staff—to make a real difference in the lives of some of the most excluded people in Africa, such as people with albinism, orphans, street children, and women who experience gender-based violence (GBV).


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