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Development in an Imperfect World: Lessons from the Field Part 2

Rajeev Ahuja's picture

To follow up on my last entry, I'd like to highlight a few more lessions I've learned in my five years at the Bank and share some aspects of the "inner workings" of my job in development. Click here to read the introduction and the first three lessons.

Let me spell out a few more of these lessons that I've learnt as a Health Economist.

4. Don’t be “means” wise and “ends” foolish
No matter where you are along the results chain at any given time, it’s important to keep an overall perspective and stay focused to reap the payoffs at the end. This is necessary so that no input, activity or process blocks or slows down your movement along the chain. The further you go along the chain, the more compelling it becomes to cover the remaining distance. For example, having achieved a policy change for introducing new technology, hired the personnel, provided them training, straightened out logistics and supply issues, it becomes all the more necessary not to hold up supplies for some silly procurement procedure.

Development in an Imperfect World: Lessons from the Field Part 1

Rajeev Ahuja's picture

In my five years at the Bank, I have learnt a number of lessons. One of the most important is that even though each practitioner brings specialist knowledge, that knowledge must be applied from an overall development perspective, for we’re trying to achieve development in imperfect settings where the gap between the ideal and the reality, between principles and practice, is often wide.

Let me spell out some of these lessons:

1. Anticipate issues but be ready for surprises
Development doesn’t take place by complete fluke nor is it a sure-shot thing that the efforts will succeed. While it is important to plan and plan well, things seldom happen as planned. It is seldom a smooth affair. While an intervention may have been designed keeping the context in mind, the context itself keeps evolving continually. So, it’s best to anticipate how things may evolve and prepare for it, but be ready for surprises as well.

Food Prices and the Inflation Tax

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Oscar Wilde, suspecting that the relationship between price and value hides reasons that reason itself ignores, observes in the Lady Windermere’s Fan that a cynic is “a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing”. The economist will laugh at Wilde’s one-liner. But after a brief moment, she would protest. Theory tells her that value and price is one and the same thing. And she will insist that what matters for South Asians today is the difference between an increase in the price level and an increase in the inflation rate.

The price level increases when there is a supply shock, such as an increase in food and fuel prices. The initial increase in the price level tends to transmit itself to other prices when the economy operates close to capacity. If the price increase is accommodated by monetary policy, the supply shock transforms itself in a spiral of prices and wages and inflation goes up. Monetary authorities do right by not tightening monetary policy in response to the primary impact of supply shocks, but have to be attentive in case the increase in food prices begins to encourage secondary inflationary effects.

India’s Turn

Eliana Cardoso's picture

An Ideal Husband, the play by Oscar Wilde, tells a story of unrealistic expectations. Lady Chiltern, a woman of strict principles, idolizes her husband, a rising star in politics. Their life is filled with nectar and ambrosia, until the appearance of Mrs. Cheveley. She comes with a letter – one that proves Sir Robert Chiltern’s fortunes were made on the back of privileged information during the construction of the Suez Canal. In exchange for this letter, she seeks support for the construction of a new canal in Argentina.

How Can Sri Lanka take Advantage of its Demographic Dividend?

Susrutha Goonasekera's picture

Much has been said about Sri Lanka’s uniqueness among developing countries; no one can deny that the oldest population pyramid outside of wealthy countries.

The demographic transition implies an aging of the population, but before old-age dependency becomes an issue, there is an intermediate period of a demographic dividend when a larger proportion of the population will be at the prime working age. The success to managing the long-term age-dependency effects of the demographic transition is to use this intermediate period of demographic dividend to conserve resources for future use and to plan for a more cost-effective strategy to deal with the future age burden. This will allow older people to live a happy productive life.

The challenge is to develop a strategic approach that takes advantage of the demographic dividend period both in terms of making strategic decisions for future cost-effectiveness and save resources for future use.

How to Make a Billion Dollars Work

Parmesh Shah's picture

Large-scale public services and expenditure, especially those specifically designed for the poor, are vulnerable to leakages. Whether it is access to quality health care or education, clean water or entitlements under a development scheme; the poor face many barriers in accessing the public services and programs that are intended for them.

Social accountability interventions aggregate citizen voice and strengthen their capacity to directly demand greater accountability and responsiveness from public officials and service providers. Such interventions include the use of tools such as community scorecards, citizen report cards and social audits.

In 2007, three social accountability interventions were introduced in India in public programs on a pilot basis, representing budgets that run into the billions of dollars. With social accountability as the common denominator, three different states with three different service delivery contexts have been able to precipitate a series of impacts in just one year.

The Poor and the Middle Class

Eliana Cardoso's picture

Start counting the poor in India and you are bound to get into controversy. In “A Comparative Perspective on Poverty Reduction in Brazil, China and India,” Martin Ravallion (October 2009) calculates that 42% of the population in India in 2005 lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005). But he finds only 20% of the population under the US$1.25 poverty line when using a different method as a sensitivity test. The difference is huge. One number is twice the other and corresponds to two hundred million people (more than the whole population of Brazil!).

Ravallion repeats the exercise and finds that in Brazil, in 2005, the population who lived in households with income per person below US$1.25 a day (converted using purchasing power parity exchange rates for consumption in 2005) is 8%. When using the alternative sensitivity test method, it is 10%. Compared to India, the difference is small (2% of the population) between the two measures.

I suspect that instead of trying to calculate the number of people with less than US$ 1.25 a day, policies for poverty reduction should focus on the bottom quintile of the population: the 20% poorest group in the country.

One of my reasons is that inequality matters. Think of poverty as a relationship.

Bang for the Buck, Changing Attitudes Toward People with Disabilities

Susan Hirshberg's picture

"Just like the Other Kids" could reach 300,000 first and second graders this year.

We like to think that our value added is our strong intellect and analytical skills combined with the ability to provide additional resources to tackle development issues. But for South Asia’s efforts in disability, it has sometimes been the smallest amounts of money and the least ‘Bank-like’ activities that have been creating the greatest awareness on the subject. I wanted to highlight some of the very exciting initiatives that we have been working on marking the International Day of Persons with Disabilities today. Three such activities have been the development of a children’s book on inclusion in Pakistan, coverage by an Indian newspaper of a one-page analysis of Bollywood’s depiction of disability in films in the report Disability in India: from Commitment to Actions, and a Small Grants Award Ceremony in Sri Lanka.

“Just like the Other Kids” is a book by young people between the ages of 12 to 18 with and without disabilities financed for $22,000 by the South Asia Youth Innovation Fund and the Pakistan Small Grants Program. Its intent is to introduce first and second graders to characters with disabilities in a friendly, inclusive way. Three out of five of the characters have a disability, but all the characters have strong abilities (and some weaknesses).

Mister 100%

Mark Ellery's picture

As a policy target, there is little doubt that it is desirable that government should ensure services for all. Breaking this down to a simple target of 100% access to a service, some local governments are showing that ensuring services for all is achievable, when they deploy their social and legal authority to leverage existing service providers to ensure a basic service for all and then increase the quality of the service (i.e. 100% by 100%).

In the remote North West Corner of Bangladesh in the poor and monga (hunger) prone District of Kurrigram there is a remote yet remarkable upazila called Rajarhat. Rajarhat was the first upazila (subdistrict) in the country to be declared Open Defecation Free (i.e. 100% sanitation) in 2004. In the light of the Government’s target of education for all, the Rajarhat upazila (subdistrict) is now seeking to be the first upazila in the country to achieve universal enrollment (i.e. 100% of children turning 6 are enrolled in school).

To understand this phenomena we visited one of the Union Parishads (UP) (Council) called Omar Majid and spent some time with the UP Chairman Khanbaker Abdul Hakim. This Union Parishad claims to have achieved:

100% sanitation (achieved in 2004) sustained through ward task forces, hygiene education and public latrines with MGSK and WaterAid.
100% registration at birth (achieved in 2007) and subsequently introduced as a pre-requisite for the enrollment of children in school.

Life and Death in South Asia

Eliana Cardoso's picture

In the film, Venus, an old and frail Peter O’Toole discovers the Greek goddess in the guise of his best friend’s niece. The ironic and good humored story explores the theme of the games played in a mutual seduction between the older man with experience, money and a nostalgic yearning for carnal desire and the young woman who soon finds out the power she wields and negotiates three kisses in return for a pair of earrings. In the final scene, wearing only one of his boots on a cold beach, O’Toole feels the caress of the sea’s salty foam with the sole of his foot and smiles. His face expresses the happiness of someone who knows the joys of being alive.

It is impossible to weigh up Peter O’Toole’s smile, measuring the degree of his happiness or comparing it to what you would feel if walking barefoot in the sand. But, the idea that his feelings can be measured as a metric has become fashionable, ever since the King of Bhutan decided that GDP fails to portray the well-being of his subjects and summoned a team to create the Gross National Happiness index.

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