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Six Questions with Chris Udry

David McKenzie's picture
This is the first in a potential new series of posts of short interviews with development economists. Chris Udry was one of the pioneers of doing detailed fieldwork in development as a grad student and has continued to be one of the most respected leaders in the profession. While at Yale he taught David, and advised both David and Markus, and is famous for the amount of time he puts into his grad students. Most recently he has moved from Yale to Northwestern. We thought this might be a good time for him to reflect on his approach to teaching and advising, and to share his thoughts on some of the emerging issues/trends in development economics.
  1. Let’s start with your approach to teaching development economics at the graduate level. The class when you taught David in 1999 was heavy on the agricultural household model and understanding micro development through different types of market failures. Most classes would involve in-depth discussion of one or at most two papers, with a student assigned most weeks to lead this discussion. There was a lot of discussion of the empirical methods in different papers, but no replication tasks and the only empirical work was as part of a term paper. How has your approach to teaching development changed (or not) since this time?

Try as I might, I have made little progress on changing my basic approach to teaching. The papers and topics have changed, but the essence of my graduate teaching remains the in-depth discussion of a paper or two each class. I’ve tried to expand the use of problem sets, and had a number of years of replication assignments. The first was hindered by my own inadequate energy (it’s hard making up decent questions!). I found that replication exercises required too much time and effort in data cleaning by students relative to their learning gain. Students were spending too much time cleaning, merging and recreating variables and too little time thinking about the ideas in the paper. I’ll reassess assigning replication this year, because there may now be enough well-documented replication datasets and programs available. With these as a starting point, it would be possible to get quickly into substantive issues in the context of a replication.

Malaysia: Does counting GDP count when it comes to development?

Richard Record's picture
Photo: Bigstock/Amlan Mathur

The recent debate on whether it makes more sense to measure Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Ringgit or in Dollars is a healthy one. It reflects a sound interest by many segments of Malaysian society in statistics that measure economic development and how it changes people’s living standards. This is the fundamental question: what does GDP really mean in the daily life of Malaysians. There are sound arguments on both sides and, in a way, both are right, depending on what perspective is taken.

Let’s talk money: New campaign helps Cambodia’s new generation on financial management

Ratchada Anantavrasilpa's picture
The World Bank partnered with the Women’s Media Center “Let’s Talk Money” radio show to help build financial stability in Cambodia.
Risky financial behaviors among Cambodians of the post-millennial generation have become more widespread in the country, especially among the 18-35 age group. While they are important customers for the financial and banking sectors, their behaviors are often dominated by lavish spending and excessive borrowing. 
 

Chart: What Are the World's Wettest Countries?

Tariq Khokhar's picture

Africa has the world’s least developed weather, water, and climate observation network, with half of its surface weather stations not reporting accurate data. Hydrological and meteorological (“hydromet”) hazards are responsible for 90% of total disaster losses worldwide. Being able to understand, predict, and warn citizens about natural hazards and disasters drives the ability of governments to reduce economic risks and save lives.

The World Bank’s research shows that annually, countries can save US$13 billion in asset losses alone by investing in hydromet services. This week, Africa’s first-ever ministerial level Meteorology Hydromet Forum formally recognizes the role hydromet services play in development.

How Islamic finance is helping fuel Malaysia’s green growth

Victoria Kwakwa's picture
Photo: bigstock/ f9photos

Income growth is not the sole aim of economic development. An equally important, albeit harder to quantify objective is a sense of progress for the entire community, and a confidence that prosperity is sustainable and shared equitably across society for the long term.  

Ideas Box: the library that promotes literacy and builds disaster resilience—a Q&A

Barbara Minguez Garcia's picture


Over the last two weeks, we’ve witnessed three hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico as well as a magnitude 8.1 earthquake in Mexico, killing people and destroying homes. They serve as a reminder that natural hazards pose a greater threat to our lives and livelihoods than we may think.

Dealing with rising disaster risks requires greater efforts with smarter approaches—ones that can help vulnerable people and communities better prepare for, and recover from, disasters. Libraries Without Borders (BSF), an international organization that expands access to information, education, and cultural resources to vulnerable people around the world, knows that very well.

In 2010, BSF was building libraries in Haiti when the well-known earthquake struck. At the time, local partners asked BSF to help them create information and cultural access points in refugee camps. This experience led to the development of the “Ideas Box," an innovative tool that provides vulnerable communities in disaster-prone areas with access to information, education, and cultural resources.

Last week, on the International Literacy Day, I talked to BSF’s Director of Communications and Advocacy, Katherine Trujillo, about the Ideas Box, as well as how their innovative ideas and actions have helped promote literacy and build resilience in disaster-hit communities.

Towards a cleaner Bangladesh: Safe water, sanitation, and hygiene for all

Qimiao Fan's picture
 
 The World Bank
Bangladesh has made progress in recent years in the field known as WASH -water, sanitation access, and hygiene. Image courtesy: The World Bank

Community-Led Total Sanitation might be the greatest Bangladeshi export you’ve never heard of.  In countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America, a consensus has emerged that the best approach is Community-Led Total Sanitation, which is widely credited with changing people’s behavior around the world to no longer defecate in the open, which has greatly improved global health.

Bangladeshis can take plenty of pride in these far-away accomplishments. That’s because it is Northern Bangladesh - more specifically the Mosmoil village in Rajshahi district - that pioneered this approach seventeen years ago. Its success at home led to its widespread adoption abroad.

Safe drinking water is a right and proper sanitation is dignity of the citizens. Proper management of freshwater ecosystems and access to safe water and sanitation are essential to human health, environmental sustainability and economic prosperity. Water and sanitation are at the core of sustainable development critical to the survival of people and the planet. Goal 6 of Agenda 2030 not only addresses the issues relating to drinking water, sanitation and hygiene, but also the quality and sustainability of water resources worldwide.

The ‘Global Water Supply and Sanitation Assessment’ by World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF), Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) reported that in 2012 about 40% (2.6 billion) of the world’s population was without access to safe water. Approximately 4 billion cases of diarrhea each year causes 2.2 million deaths, and majority of them are children under the age of five. This situation in Bangladesh is also challenging. A study by Water and Sanitation Program (WSP) wing of the World Bank reveals that Bangladesh incurred a loss of Tk295.48 billion in 2010 due to inadequate sanitation, which is 6.3% of the GDP.
 
Indeed, there is much to emulate in Bangladesh’s remarkable progress in recent years in the field known as WASH -water, sanitation access, and hygiene. Today, 98 percent of the population gets drinking water from a technologically improved source – water which comes from a manmade structure– up from 79 percent in 1990.  Bangladesh also largely succeeded in providing access to basic sanitation. It is estimated that only three percent of the population practice open defecation, down from 34 percent in 1990, thanks to behavior change campaigns and the building of many new toilets. 

But, much has yet to be done. Bangladesh has still a long way to go to meet the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) of providing universal access to clean water and sustainable sanitation by 2030. The World Bank recently completed a study, the WASH Poverty Diagnostic, which examines the remaining challenges in ensuring access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene. The findings are startling.

Weekly links September 15: the definitive what we know on Progresa, ethics of cash, a new approach to teaching economics, and more…

David McKenzie's picture
  • In the latest JEL, Parker and Todd survey the literature on Progresa/Oportunidades: some bits of interest to me included:
    • CCTs have now been used in 60+ countries;
    • over 100 papers have been published using the Progresa/Oportunidades data, with at least 787 hypotheses tested – multiple testing corrections don’t change the conclusions that the program had health and education effects, but do cast doubt on papers claiming impacts on gender issues and demographic outcomes;
    • FN 16 which notes that at the individual level, there are significant differences in 32% of the 187 characteristics on which baseline balance is tested, with the authors arguing that this is because the large sample size leads to a tendency to reject the null at conventional levels – a point that seems inconsistent with use of the same significant levels for measuring treatment effects;
    • Two decades later, we still don’t know whether Progresa led to more learning, just more years in school;
    • One of the few negative impacts is an increase in deforestation in communities which received the CCT
  • Dave Evans asks whether it matters which co-author submits a paper, and summarizes responses from several editors; he also gives a short summary of a panel on how to effectively communicate results to policymakers.

Leaving no one behind – achieving disability-inclusive disaster risk management

Charlotte McClain-Nhlapo's picture
Southern, Thailand - January 9, 2017: a volunteer helps a man with a disability get through the flood in his wheelchair. Photo: issara anujun / Shutterstock.com
Natural hazard events can occur in any country, at any time.  At present, India, Bangladesh, and Nepal are dealing with the aftermath of some of the worst monsoon flooding in years, which has left more than 1,200 people dead and millions homeless.  At the same time, North America and the Caribbean region are responding to some of the strongest hurricanes on record.

At such times of peril, individual and community resilience is at a premium, and we cannot afford to miss opportunities to bolster that resilience wherever possible. This is especially true with respect to certain groups – such as persons with disabilities – who have historically been disproportionately affected by natural hazards.

While some strides have been made in addressing the needs of persons with different disabilities in response and recovery efforts, fewer efforts are aimed at incorporating lessons into long-term disaster and climate risk management at a systemic and/or policy level.  

More needs to be done to create disability inclusion for all – a topic that was discussed during a Facebook Live chat on September 19.

Innovation: A meaningless “catchword” or something more useful?

Alanna Simpson's picture
Can innovation be more than just a gimmick? © DFID
Can innovation be more than just a gimmick? © DFID

Challenges in development are growing at unprecedented rates, driven by complex human crises: refugees, rapid and unsustainable urbanization and climate change, failure to meet basic infrastructure needs, youth unemployment and disengagement, and stubbornly poor health and education outcomes, to name a few. Set against a backdrop of political and public pressure to do more with less – and see results faster than ever – even the most optimistic among us are likely to view the glass half empty. 


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