Randomized controlled trials are the popular centerpiece of an emerging data-driven approach to figuring out precisely the best way to end poverty. Can a return to the scientific method fix the global aid industry?
For too long, “accountability” in the aid industry has meant nothing more than ensuring that a donor’s money was spent the way an agency said it would be. Rarely did organizations examine whether their spending achieved a positive impact (improved access to water, for example), much less one that stood the test of time (meaning the well didn’t dry up).
But recently, many aid organizations, including theInternational Rescue Committee, a New York humanitarian aid group specializing in refugee assistance, have used RCTs to, among other things, evaluate methods for nudging parents in Liberia toward more effective parenting techniques and tocreate highly effective community savings-and-loan programs to combat poverty in Burundi. It’s easy to see why charities are attracted to RCTs: They can make an aid agency’s work more efficient and generate solid evidence of progress to show funders.
As organizations continue to conduct more of them, RCTs are disproving many myths upon which we’ve designed development aid for years, not least of which is our longtime preference for projects over cash. If the data shows, as the RCT of GiveDirectly’s Kenya program did, that it’s most effective to hand a family $1,000 with no strings attached, then that’s precisely what we should do.
Read the full article in the July/August print edition of Pacific Standard or online.
Where is Chinese Money invested in the DRC?
Sébastien Le Belzic, Le Monde
“The problem is the carelessness of the Congolese government,” says Jacob Kushner, an American journalist who has long worked on Chinese investment in Congo. In its investigation, which began in 2013, it already highlighted the gap between the enormity of Chinese investment in Congo with the poverty of the local population. “Chinese investment in Congo has always been very important with big contracts traded from state to state. Infrastructure projects, mining, as well as small restaurants and shops created by Chinese migrants–these are two different worlds that I wanted to study to see how the Chinese investments have changed Congo,” he says. “But what has really changed is the crisis and the great fear for Africa that these Chinese investments are decreasing … Africa depends heavily on China, too much perhaps. ”
“The question everyone asks is: how have Congolese politicians used the money invested by China in their country?” Jacob Kushner asks. “There needs to be more transparency on these mega-projects and the debts they generate.”
“You can see that in this country we have a lot of resources,” lawyer, opposition party senator and prominent critic of the government’s dealings with China Emery Kabamba told Kushner for his eBook. “But where is the proof that we are really enjoying it? Go ten meters from here, you will see the situation. Five minutes from my office you will see people who don’t have electricity.”
Read the full article at LeMonde.fr/Afrique
On an overcast morning in Nairobi, commuter buses drive down a crumbling road into Kibera, a densely packed slum. A sign at the bus station reads “public toilets,” but the doors are locked.
It’s estimated that Kibera has just one toilet for every 2,500 of its approximately 250,000 residents. Without toilets to relieve themselves, people “use any means, whether it’s a [plastic] bag or a can,” explained Fred Amuok, Community Liaison for a Kenyan rights-based organization called Umande Trust.
The World Health Organization estimates that 1.5 million people die every year from diarrhea, often the result of poor sanitation. There’s also a financial cost: studies show that Kenya loses US$324 million each year in missed work hours due to sickness brought on by poor sanitation. According to the sanitation company Sanergy, four million tonnes of fecal sludge escape into Kenya’s waterways and fields every year.
But Umande Trust has come up with an innovative approach to providing affordable toilets for Kibera’s residents and turning human waste into cooking fuel–one that’s already been working for more than a decade.
The economic growth that has taken China to second place in the world by size of gross domestic product after the United States has been astounding — and its numbers are staggering in Africa too. In 2009, China surpassed the United States as the continent’s largest trading partner. By 2012, its trade with Africa was double the United States’.
Western media tend to inflate the rhetoric surrounding China’s rise in Africa. Headlines are often resentful and sometimes border on fear-mongering: China is “winning” Africa from the West. The United States must “catch up” to China if it hopes to maintain economic, security and cultural relevance in Africa. A monolithic “China” sees Africa as a place to get rich quick, and doesn’t care much about the consequences.
But behind these hyperbolic headlines there are people, actual Chinese moving to Africa — one million over the past 15 years according to the rough but generally accepted estimate. Some come to work for large Chinese companies that mine copper or cobalt. Others come to build those roads and railways. Many come to open small businesses: restaurants, pharmacies, furniture and electronics stores.
“Big projects completed by big, government-owned companies dominate the headlines about the advancing Chinese agenda in Africa,” wrote Howard French, a longtime New York Times correspondent in both China and Africa, in China’s Second Continent. “But history teaches us that very often reality is more meaningfully shaped by the deeds of countless smaller actors, most of them for all intents and purposes anonymous.”
Read the full article at VICE, and watch the full documentary, Chinafication of Africa, which I helped produce, on VICE HBO on April 22nd.
TSAVO WEST NATIONAL PARK, Kenya—When it comes to darting elephants from helicopters and fitting heavy GPS tracking collars around their massive necks, “a lot of things can go wrong,” David Daballen says. “An elephant can fall on its chest. Imagine, a six-ton animal just sitting on its chest—they crush their lungs.”
As dawn breaks, Daballen, who works with Save the Elephants, is leading a collaring team of a couple dozen people, including nine Kenya Wildlife Service rangers dressed in camouflage and brandishing rifles. They are equipped with a Cessna, a helicopter, and a caravan of Toyota Land Cruisers and other SUVs.
The Cessna, circling overhead, spots an elephant and radios the team. Within seconds the chopper swoops in low, disappearing behind the bushes and trees. A moment later it swoops upward, and the vehicles race toward the spot. Lying on his right side is a bull. His skin is brown and rough, with pokey black hairs.
The team sets immediately to work unrolling the collar onto the elephant’s neck and attempting to tug it underneath. Someone pours water on the animal’s side to keep him cool. Another puts a small stick into the tip of his trunk to keep the airway open.
After struggling 20 minutes to get the collar on, Daballen uses a socket wrench to tighten the two ends together. The job done, a man injects an antidote to wake the animal up, and the team hurries to their vehicles. Everyone is silent as they watch the bull rise. He stands, looks toward the vehicles, then he turns and walks swiftly in the opposite direction.
The bull was the first of 10 elephants the team tranquilized over a week to fit with tracking collars. Their mission: to see how well Tsavo’s estimated 12,000 savanna elephants traverse a new rail line that has recently split their habitat in two. It is the first time in history, Daballen’s organization believes, that elephants are being collared specifically to study how they interact with human infrastructure.
Read the full feature story at National Geographic.
HISPANIOLA – On the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, home to the sovereign nations of the Dominican Republic and Haiti, two large lakes are rising dramatically.
Lake Azuéi in Haiti submerged an entire community; across the border in the Dominican Republic, Lake Enriquillo has risen nearly 33 feet in just 10 years. As their land flooded, many farmers began cut-ting down trees to make charcoal to earn a living, leading to deforestation.
Scientists from across the globe have tried to solve the mystery behind the rising lakes. Some think climate change is to blame, arguing that warming sea created more evaporation and clouds, which led to more rainfall. But if true, that would be strange, because in most of the world climate change is causing lakes to shrink.
The phenomenon is spur- ring calls for more research to help explain – and mitigate – the situation. Until scientists are able to identify the cause and work toward a solution, thousands of farmers on this Caribbean island will have to adapt.
When Europeans began arriving in the New World at the end of the 15th century, they used the region to source silver, gold, coffee, and wool. Today, China is the foremost trading partner with several Latin American countries, and buys oil from Venezuela, Mexico, and Ecuador; iron ore from Brazil; beef from Argentina; and copper from Chile and Peru.
According to a new book, The China Triangle: Latin America’s China Boom and the Fate of the Washington Consensus, by Boston University global development professor Kevin P. Gallagher, Chinese investment in Latin America is outpacing even its famed liaison with Africa.
Gallagher argues that the Washington Consensus—by which the U.S. pressured Latin American countries to open their markets to free trade and deregulation during the 1990s—failed to help those states develop. “While the United States wasn’t paying attention, Latin America quickly became of the utmost strategic importance for China—as a source for many of the key natural resources it needs to grow its economy and the appetites of more than a billion people,” he writes.
But therein lies the hitch in Gallagher’s thesis. The antiquated notion that the U.S. and China are in a sort of dichotomous or binary economic arms race—a sense highlighted by the “triangle” reference upon which his book is titled—overlooks the fact that these two nations cannot possibly account for all of Latin America’s gains and losses during the two decades that he studies. If Gallagher’s strongest argument is that China’s Latin American presence is surprisingly large, his weakest is that it is almost singularly responsible for the region’s recent growth.
Read the full book review at Columbia University Global Reports.
Two years ago, Michael Bloomberg launched Bloomberg Media Initiative Africa, a $10 million fund to “build media capacity, convene international leaders and improve access to information” on the continent. As part of the three-year program, journalists in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria can apply for training programs and seminars to improve their knowledge about African finance and how to cover it.
Truly independent media outlets remain scarce on the continent. Freedom House lists the press in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa as only “partially free.” The first and fourth most censored media in the world are in Africa, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which last year published a detailed report about how Kenyan officials and partisan media owners are eroding press freedom there.
To learn more about the initiative and its relevance for African business journalism, CoveringBusiness spoke with three veteran Bloomberg editors. Read the interview at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Covering Business blog.
NAIROBI, KENYA — First, a lioness ventured into the city as a decoy to draw officials away from her cubs that were lost in an army barracks.
Then, just weeks later, a pride of six lions breeched a fence into a pasture killing as many as 120 goats and sheep. One lion lost his bearings and ended up on a major highway, injuring a man before finding his way back into Nairobi National Park, located adjacent to Kenya’s capital city.
Now, this week, a popular lion named Mohawk ventured some 20 miles (32 kilometers) south of that park only to be surrounded and harassed by onlookers. When he responded by attacking one of them, he was shot and killed by park rangers.
Why are so many lions leaving Nairobi National Park?
Read the full story at National Geographic.
Several years ago, when I was working as a reporter based in Haiti, I came upon a group of older Christian missionaries in the mountains above Port-au-Prince, struggling with heavy shovels to stir a pile of cement and sand. They were there to build a school alongside a Methodist church. Muscular Haitian masons stood by watching, perplexed and a bit amused at the sight of men and women who had come all the way from the United States to do a mundane construction job.
Such people were a familiar sight: They were voluntourists. They would come for a week or two for a “project” — a temporary medical clinic, an orphanage visit or a school construction. A 2008 study surveyed 300 organizations that market to would-be voluntourists and estimated that 1.6 million people volunteer on vacation, spending around $2 billion annually.
Read the full essay at the New York Times Magazine.