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(2010-09-27 23:14:22)




Global targets, local ingenuity


In ten years, the living conditions of the poor have been improving—but not necessarily because of the UN’s goals


Sep 23rd 2010 from The Economist

EVEN at 70, Jiyem, an Indonesian grandmother, gets up in the small hours to cook and collect firewood for her impoverished household. Her three-year-old grandson is malnourished. Nobody in her family has ever finished primary school. Her ramshackle house lacks electricity; the toilet is a hole in the ground; the family drinks dirty water. Asked about her notion of well-being by researchers from Oxford University, Jiyem said, “I cannot picture what well-being means.”


The sort of deprivation Jiyem describes remains widespread. The United Nations reckons that in 2008 over a quarter of children in the developing world were underweight, a sixth of people lacked access to safe drinking water, and just under half used insanitary toilets or none at all. But while these figures are disquieting, a smaller fraction of people were affected than was the case two decades ago. So such data also indicate the world’s progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of targets adopted by world leaders at the UN ten years ago.


The leaders gave themselves 15 years to reach the goalposts set in 2000. Two-thirds of that time is up. This week they returned to the UN for another meeting. Few, if any, of them have close experience of poverty. So the MDG exercise has at least made them spend three days discussing matters they might prefer to ignore. It has also helped to shift the debate away from how much is being spent on development towards how much is being achieved.


But few go as far as Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary-general, who recently called the goals “a milestone in international co-operation” that had helped “hundreds of millions of people around the world.” Talking up the MDGs is, of course, part of Mr Ban’s job. And there has indeed been progress on many fronts (see table 2). But it is hard to assign much credit to the exercise itself.


Take the goal of halving the poverty rate from its 1990 level by 2015. The World Bank reckons that in 1990 46% of the developing world’s population fell below the internationally accepted poverty line of $1.25 a day at purchasing-power parity. By 2005 the rate had fallen to 27% and, despite a slowdown in progress in the past couple of years, it is now probably lower still. A global halving by 2015 seems well within reach. Yet this “victory” is mainly due to a drop in China’s poverty rate from 60% in 1990 to 16% in 2005. Because China and India accounted for over 62% of the planet’s poor in 1990, changes to the world’s poverty rate depend heavily on their performance. A global goal is therefore a poor way to give the governments of smaller countries an incentive to tackle poverty.


Alison Evans of Britain’s Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reckons that the MDGs have come to be seen as applying to each developing country. But it is hard to track performance at country level: 28 of the poorest countries have recorded poverty rates for only one year between 1990 and 2008, according to a tally by researchers at the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank in Washington, DC. This makes any judgments about their progress mere guesswork. (This caveat does not apply with equal force to the global target, because China and India have enough data to make their progress measurable.)


The ODI reckons that 15 poor countries have already met the goal of halving the poverty rate. And perennial pessimists about Africa’s prospects may be surprised to know that the list of the top ten countries ranked by the average annual decline in the poverty rate includes six in Africa: the Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic and Guinea.


But lack of data aside, there is something odd about setting uniform targets such as “cutting child mortality by two-thirds”, which means that some countries must do much more to avoid being classed as failures than others. Niger is a case in point. Between 1990 and 2007 it cut the number of children per 1,000 who died before their fifth birthday from 304 to 176. This was the biggest absolute reduction of any country in the world. But Niger is still judged “off-track” to meet its target, because continuing at the current rate will still result in a reduction of slightly below two-thirds. Its government may well find the MDG exercise mildly discouraging.


Money’s limits


The goal-setting exercise has further pitfalls. Too often, the goals are reduced to working out how much money is needed to meet a particular target and then berating governments for not spending enough. Yet the countries that have made most progress in cutting poverty have largely done so not by spending public money, but by encouraging faster economic growth. China is the most obvious example. The best performers in Africa, too, are those that have managed to speed up growth. As Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank’s chief economist for Africa, points out, growth does not just make more money available for social spending. It also increases the demand for such things as schooling, and thus helps meet other development goals. Yet the goals, as drawn up, made no mention of economic growth.


Of course, as India’s dismal record on child malnutrition demonstrates, growth by itself does not solve all the problems of the poor. It is also clear that while money helps, how it is spent and what it is spent on are enormously important. For instance, campaigners often ask for more to be spent on primary education. But throughout the developing world teachers on the public payroll are often absent from school. Teacher-absenteeism rates are around 20% in rural Kenya, 27% in Uganda and 14% in Ecuador. In Rajasthan in northern India, nurses who were supposed to be staffing primary health clinics were found to be at work only 12% of the time over an 18-month period.


In any case, money that is allocated for such services rarely reaches its intended recipients. A study found that 70% of the money allocated for drugs and supplies by the Ugandan government in 2000 was lost to “leakage”; in Ghana, 80% was siphoned off. Montek Ahluwalia, of India’s Planning Commission, said last year that he reckoned only 16% of the resources earmarked for the poor under the country’s subsidised food distribution scheme ever reached them. Money needs to be spent, therefore, not merely on building more schools or hiring more teachers, but on getting them to do what they are paid for, and preventing resources from disappearing somewhere between the central government and their supposed destination.

不管怎样,为了这些服务筹集的资金鲜有到达本该得到钱的人手中。一个研究发现2000年乌干达政府为药品和日用必需品筹集的资金中,70%的资金流失;在加纳,80%的资金流失。印度计划委员会的蒙特克? 阿卢瓦利亚估计去年针对穷人的国家食品补助发放计划的资源中只有16%到了他们手中。所以,需要花钱,不仅要花在建立更多学校或聘用更多老师身上,而且还应该花在保证他们到岗工作方面,他们也是得到酬劳的,也应该花在防止资金在中央政府和原定目的地之间流失。

The good news is that policy experiments carried out by governments, NGOs, academics and international institutions are slowly building up a body of evidence about methods that work. A large-scale evaluation in Andhra Pradesh in southern India has shown, for example, that performance pay for teachers is three times as effective at raising pupils’ test scores as the equivalent amount spent on school supplies. In Rajasthan, teachers were paid only on showing a date-stamped photograph to prove they had been in class on a given day. This led not just to a massive decline in absenteeism, but also to better pupil performance.


And in Uganda the government, appalled that money meant for schools was not reaching them, took to publicising how much was being allotted, using radio and newspapers. Leakage was dramatically reduced. The World Bank hopes to bring such innovations to the notice of other governments during the summit, if it can. For if the drive against poverty is to succeed, it will owe more to such ideas and their wider use than to targets set at UN-sponsored summits.



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