›May 31, 2010 // By Wilson Center StaffQ: Foreign assistance has had major achievements over the past 50 years. What are some examples?
SEWELL: There have been many but off the top of my head I can think of three. First, the Green Revolution where the combined efforts of American aid and private foundations revolutionized agriculture in Asia. As a result, many more people lived a much longer time. Second, the efforts put into improving education, particularly of women and girls. The third is population growth. When I started working on development, the best predictions said that global population would rise to over 20 billion at the end of the 20th century. Now we know it will not go much above 9 billion and perhaps lower. That wouldn’t have happened without American leadership and funding.
Q: What are the major failures of foreign assistance?
SEWELL: Failures have occurred either because countries were not committed to development, or because aid agencies designed ineffective programs. But most major failures came about because aid was provided for political reasons— for Cold War purposes in Southeast Asia or the Middle East, not for economic and social development. And we should remember that promoting development is a risky business. If there were no failures, development agencies were being too cautious.
But the more important failures are at the strategic level. Assistance really is only effective when governments and leaders want to speed economic growth, improve health and education, and address poverty. When the government isn’t committed to development, a lot of aid is wasted.
That’s why the choice of countries is so important. Korea is one example. Korean leaders knew how to use foreign aid effectively to build agriculture and industry. Part of that assistance funded investments in health and education. We all know the result.
Egypt, on the other hand, also has received large amounts of American assistance since 1979. But its growth rates are low and they still have one of the highest rates of adult illiteracy in the world.
Perhaps the largest failure has been in Africa. Except for a small number of countries, Africa lags far behind other regions. The blame lies not just with African leaders but also with aid donors who have continued to provide assistance in ways that hinder development.
Q: In what ways can global poverty be reduced quickly in the next three to four years?
SEWELL: In the short term, it won’t happen. The global financial crisis makes that a certainty.
The best estimates are that up to 90 million people will fall back into poverty because they will have lost jobs and livelihoods. The most important thing the U.S. can do in the near term is to continue to lead the reform of the international financial systems that are essential to restarting global economic growth, particularly in the developing world.
Q: That’s the way to reduce poverty?
SEWELL: In the short term, yes. But the U.S. can target aid to build poor peoples’ capacities and can make a great difference. That means aid for education, especially women, and to enable poor people to improve their health. And jobs are critical.
I think the right goal is to empower people to move into the middle class.
That means helping to provide technical assistance and in making low-cost credits for both farmers and small scale entrepreneurs. They will be the generators of jobs that enable men and women to move out of poverty.
Q: Why do you say in one of your papers that economic growth alone will not eliminate poverty?
SEWELL: Because it’s true. Growth does not automatically diminish poverty; it has to be complemented by government actions to share the gains from growth by investing in better health and education. For this you also need a competent state. That’s how the East Asian countries managed to develop so successfully. On the other hand, many Latin American countries have grown at decent rates but have lousy income distribution. But now countries like Brazil are starting to change. For instance, the Brazilian government now pays mothers to keep their children in school where they can get education and health care.
Q: USAID has restrictions that inhibit advertising. How can the public and Congress be informed about the successes and importance of development assistance?
SEWELL: USAID has been very timid about educating the public and Congress. I am not even sure that the earlier successful programs of development education exist anymore. Some steps are easy.
USAID staff knows a lot about development. Why not send them out to talk to public groups around the country? USAID staff doesn’t even participate actively in the yeasty dialogue on development that goes on in the Washington policy community and they should be encouraged to do so. Other changes may require funding and perhaps legislation and the administration should work with the Congress to get them.
Informing the public is particularly important now when there are two major processes underway to modernize U.S. development programs and Congress is rewriting the development assistance legislation.
Q: Since China and Vietnam have both developed without democracy, how important is it to push for democracy and good governance? Are they really necessary?
SEWELL: We need to separate democracy and governance. Very few of the successful developing countries have started out as democracies; India is the big exception. On the other hand, all of the successful countries have had effective governments to do what governments should do: provide security and public goods like health and education, establish the rule of law, and encourage entrepreneurship.
We need to face the fact that no outsider, including the U.S., can “democratize” a country. But it can play an important role in helping to improve governance in committed poor countries. And one of the important parts of successful development is what a Harvard economist calls “conflict mediating institutions” that allow people to deal with the inevitable conflicts that arise within successful development.
Q: You have said that we need to make markets work. How can we help poor people begin to trade when Europe, Japan, and the United States either block imports or subsidize exports?
SEWELL: If you are serious about development, you have to give high priority to trade policy. Unfortunately, USAID seems to have very little voice in trade decisions.
The U.S. needs to focus its development trade policy on the poorest countries. The highest priority should be dropping the remaining subsidies for U.S. production of highly subsidized agricultural products like cotton that can be produced very competitively in very poor countries.
But many of these countries have difficulty selling goods in the U.S., not only because of subsidies, but also because they are not equipped to export. Transport costs are high as are the costs of meeting U.S. health and quality standards, and knowledge of marketing in America is scarce.
Here’s where USAID can play an important complementary role. U.S. companies are already providing technical assistance, some with USAID support. But USAID can expand its trade capacity building programs and focus them on the poorer countries.
Q: What about microcredit?
SEWELL: Microcredit is a very important innovation, especially for empowering poor people, particularly poor women. It’s part of the solution to ending poverty.
But there are other needs. In most poor countries, there are large groups of poor entrepreneurs who are not poor enough to get microcredit but who can’t get commercial banks to lend to them. These are people who produce products for sale— handbags, for instance—that employ 10 to 20 people, but they need capital and advice in order to grow. In the U.S., small businessmen used to borrow money from local banks.That’s how America grew. But similar institutions don’t exist in many poor countries.
Q: We are involved in so many different programs—20 or 30 different federal agencies do some sort of foreign assistance— why not just invest in education and health and let each country figure out what their own development plan should be?
SEWELL: A very good idea. I have long advocated that the U.S. should focus its programs on a few major development issues but I would go beyond just health and education. I add climate change and dealing with global health threats. We dodged the bullet on SARS [severe acute respiratory syndrome] and avian flu but we may not be so lucky in the future. And strengthening governance and strengthening weak states is essential.
The real need now is for some mechanism that oversees and coordinates the multiplicity of agencies that have programs and expertise on these critical issues. Let’s hope that emerges from the current administration’s reviews of development policy
John Sewell a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, was interviewed by FrontLines Editorial Director Ben Barber. Originally published in USAID FrontLines, April 2010.›May 28, 2010 // By Schuyler Null
USAID’s “Feed the Future” initiative is being touted for its potential to help stabilize failing states and dampen simmering civil conflicts. Speaking at a packed symposium on food security hosted by the Chicago Council last week, USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah called food security “the foundation for peace and opportunity – and therefore a foundation for our own national security.”›May 28, 2010 // By Dan Asinspeech. “Unemployment is the best recruiting tool for the Taliban,” he told the Des Moines Register.
Sixty USDA experts are working with their partners in State, USAID, DOD, and other members of U.S. government to increase agricultural opportunities in rural areas of the country. Embedded in small civil-military units of 15-100 people, USDA experts have worked on projects of all scales: installing windmill water pumps, training veterinarians, refurbishing university research laboratories, stabilizing river banks and irrigation canals, and developing storage facilities.
In his keynote speech at the Feed the Future launch, Vilsack emphasized the need to build markets. In Afghanistan, USDA is focusing on improving infrastructure so farmers can receive deliveries and ship produce, and boosting credit vehicles to help farmers purchase the inputs to grow crops. Opium traders provide seeds to the farmers and pick up the crops at the farms, he said, which makes opium easier to produce than legal crops.
Alternative crops could be just as or more valuable, Vilsack told NPR:
Table grapes are in some cases perhaps four and five times more valuable than poppy. Saffron, almonds, pomegranates, a number of fruits are significantly more profitable. What we have to do is we have to establish that the reward of putting those crops in the ground is greater and the risk is equal to or less than poppy production.On the same NPR program, Vilsack’s counterpart agreed: “Agriculture growth means employment and employment means security. They’re so much related to each other. In places where the military operates, if you do not offer people the future, just by military means, security and stability will be a very far-reaching dream,” said Minister of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock Mohammad Asif Rahimi.
But the Afghan government faces an immense challenge: Afghanistan’s unemployment rate is estimated at 35 percent, which ranks it in the bottom 20 countries in the world. With a population growth rate of 3.5 percent and nearly half the population already under the age of 15, the need for job creation is only set to increase.
While agricultural development and food security are essential, Rahimi acknowledged, alone they are not enough. The Afghan government needs a “whole of government approach,” he said. To win the hearts of its people the government must offer “an alternative to what the Talibans were offering to people…more livelihood and security and education and health, and also a better and more secure future.”
Both Vilsack and Rahimi avoid the common trap of equating hunger with conflict, instead emphasizing agricultural employment and economic opportunities as key to solving that intractable conflict.
But it’s not the only piece of the puzzle. I hope the Feed the Future’s “whole of government” approach in Afghanistan will emphasize not only agriculture, but also the environmental policies and health services, such as family planning, that can ensure that agricultural gains are sustainable even after the troops leave.
Sources: Central Intelligence Agency, Des Moines Register, NPR, United Nations Statistics Division, United Nations Population Division, U.S. Agency for International Development, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of State.
Photo Credit: Colonel Stephen Redman and John Van Horn of the USDA discuss crop plans with local residents while surveying the site of the Arkansas Agribusiness Development Team’s (ADT)demonstration farm plot near Shahr-e-Safa, Afghanistan, courtesy Flickr user isafmedia.›May 28, 2010 // By Julien Katchinoffrecently concluded web seminar hosted by the Population Environment Research Network (PERN) engaged social scientists and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and remote sensing experts to appraise the role of remote sensing data collection in population and environment research, and identify effective methods for future collaboration.
As the population-environment relationship attracts more study, scholars should consider how remote sensing data will be integrated within existing research needs, as well as how new programs and sensors will help meet future needs. Invited expert Sean Sloan of the University of Melbourne wrote that the potential societal benefits of this research are “immense, albeit largely unrealized. In my view, the principal benefit is that, for the first time, policymakers may draw upon a rich, national-scale empirical basis to develop social/agricultural/economic policy relevant to large-scale environmental issues.”
Cyberseminar participants considered several questions and topics, from determining the most appropriate sensors and instruments for the measurement of population and environment interactions, to addressing the challenges of interdisciplinary research and data interoperability. The discussion also touched on land use and land-cover change, as well how to apply the technology to specific case studies, geographic regions, PE issues, or scalar resolutions.
Demographer Jack Baker of the University of New Mexico raised a tricky issue in his contribution to the discussion of using night-time missions such as Nightsat to calculate population growth and urban sprawl. For his study of remote hunter-gatherers in rural Paraguay, Baker found that “they don’t have electricity so I don’t think they would be captured in satellite views of the night sky. It would be interesting to see how these population estimates I made perform in comparison to an estimate made using night sky imagery …in reality I would like to see lots of these sorts of comparisons before really feeling like I had a grasp on what the strengths and weaknesses of night sky approaches are,” he wrote.
PRB’s Jason Bremner pointed out that despite the high value of remote sensing to understanding human dimensions of environmental change, “the insights remain largely confined to peer-reviewed journals and the academic community. Conservation and development practitioners and policymakers don’t have access to and don’t read the peer-reviewed journals.” In addition, the increasingly technical nature of these methods will require “finding new ways to communicate what we know to those with no technical knowledge of the field,” he said. He urged the participants “to consider what you are doing to overcome the divide between what we know and what others about understand and can use to make decisions.”
Direct dialogue like this between social scientists and remote sensing experts can help establish stronger, more effective ties between two disciplines that would benefit greatly from each other’s support. Such collaboration will be increasingly necessary to address the increasingly complex challenges of population-environment connections.
Julien Katchinoff is a MA student at American University studying global environmental politics and a former intern with ECSP.
Photo Credit: Nightsat image of Osaka, Japan courtesy the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC).›
The atmosphere in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in central China, tells a cautionary tale of China’s current emphasis on economic growth at the expense of its citizens’ health. With lower annual sunshine totals than London, Chengdu’s perpetually grey, cloudy horizon graphically illustrates the massive industrial waste and coal-fired pollution that plague this booming city.
In April, global health experts convened in Chengdu at the 5th International Academic Conference on Environmental and Occupational Medicine, which was co-sponsored by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Chinese CDC offices, to report on the impact of climate change on public health.
Because of its geography, the mountain-encircled basin in which Chengdu sits is the natural point of release for daily deposits of air pollutants and dust blown in from India and other countries to the west. A rapid series of satellite views presented by John Petterson, director of the Sequoia Foundation, brought gasps from conference attendees, as these accumulated industrial wastes were shown concentrating against the massive southern Tibetan mountain range, then turning grey and black as they moved east, before being deposited on Sichuan’s vulnerable (and already heavily polluted) basin.
Environmental risk factors, especially air and water pollution, are a major–and worsening–source of death and illness in China. Air quality in China’s cities is among the worst in the world, and industrial water pollution is a widespread health hazard.
And although air pollution is clearly a complex global problem, individual nation-states continue to approach this dilemma as though it lies between its borders alone.
Luckily, this conference was prefaced by a number of timely scientific articles on China in the Lancet. The predominantly Chinese authors clearly take the critical risks that we expect from the Lancet, which is a defender of accountability and transparency in global health. This issue brings shame to other publications who still consider their “place” to be protecting the conventional politico-economic emphasis on decision-making inherent to most industrialized countries.
At the conference, public health and climate experts openly voiced their frustration at the blatant privileging of economic priorities over the health of unknowing populations. China–the fastest growing economy in world history, with unprecedented growth driven by external “demand” and precipitous acceleration of domestic consumption–has become the poster-child for global ignorance. However, the West is an equal and essential partner, having moved their manufacturing to China for cheap labor, lax environmental regulations, and higher profits.
Dr. Mark Keim, senior advisor for the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health, presented irrefutable evidence that root structure erosion from advancing saltwater has led to starvation in Polynesia, the first recorded evidence-based outcome measure of climate change’s public health effects.
At Mark’s request, I presented evidence on the worsening health impacts of rapid urbanization, specifically within urban enclaves that expand due to dense population growth before protective public health infrastructures and systems are in place (forthcoming in Prehospital and Disaster Medicine). Currently, the megacities in Asia and Africa–where sanitation is ignored and infectious disease is prevalent–now have the highest infant and under-age five mortality rates in the world.
Today, we face the largest gap in health indices between the haves and have-nots since the alarming days before the Alma-Ata Declaration. This new health data was an uncomfortable surprise to many conference attendees, most of whom were experts in the physical and environmental sciences.
We have become too “vertical” in our research over the past 50 years, and thus we fail to recognize that solutions to problems facing the global community must be trans-disciplinary and multi-sectoral, and serve multiple ministries and decision-makers.
If not undone by human decisions, global climate change and climate-warming greenhouse gases will rapidly intensify. This effort requires the best collaboration between science and the humanities, as well as the harmonious lessons of the “old” China.
Frederick M. Burkle, Jr., MD, MPH, DTM, is a senior public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a senior fellow of the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health.
Photo Credit: Chengdu skyline in smog, courtesy Flickr user lonely radio.›
Visual artist Adam Nieman recently received attention from The New York Time’s Dot Earth Blog for his illuminating scale models of hard-to-envision quantities such as the volume of oil being leaked from the Deepwater Horizon wells, global carbon emissions as measured in “UN Building units per second,” and the relatively small amount of air and water on Earth.
Demographers and sustainability experts often warn about the increasingly smaller allotment of natural resources per capita, but few have illustrated that reality at such a human scale as Nieman does.
Others seeking to improve quantitative visualizations include David McCandless of the site Information Is Beautiful. Among other things, McCandless has tackled the daunting task of accurately comparing spending in an age of trillion dollar budgets, with his “Billion Dollar Gram.”
Another group, the Dutch firm TD Architects, highlights the disparity between global demographics and the distribution of wealth with “Walled World.”
Nieman’s blog examines the confusion that often occurs at the interface between the political and scientific worlds. This confusion is amply demonstrated by debates over contentious issues such as budget priorities, population growth, and climate change.
Politicians often ask that complex problems be distilled into simple bullet points for speeches and policy documents. However, when it comes to problems of such complexity and scale, pictures like these may be worth a thousand bullet points.
Sources: New York Times, Reuters.
Photo Credit: “Green London (wide)” and “land cover islands” courtesy of flickr user JohnJobby.›May 26, 2010 // By Kayly Ober“Part of the outflow of migrants from rural areas of many Latin American countries has settled in remote rural areas, pushing the agricultural frontier further into the forest,” writes David López-Carr in a recent article in Population & Environment, “The population, agriculture, and environment nexus in Latin America.” In a May 4 presentation at the LAC Economic Growth and Environment Strategic Planning Workshop in Panama City, Panama, he discussed how to integrate family planning and environmental services in rural Latin America.
Latin America is one of the most highly urbanized continents in the world, with an average of 75 percent of the population living in cities. However, “there are two Latin Americas,” said López-Carr at the workshop, which was sponsored by the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and Brazil Institute, as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development. Largely developed countries like Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay are close to 90 percent urbanized, while Guatemala, Ecuador, and Bolivia are about 50 percent. In less urbanized countries, rural-rural migrants in search of agricultural land remain a major driving force behind forest conversion, he said.
Between 1961 and 2001, Central America’s rural population increased by 59 percent, said Lopez-Carr. The increasing density of the rural population had a negative impact on forest reserves: a 15 percent increase in deforestation totaling some 13 million hectares.
“Rural areas of Latin America still have high fertility rates but (unlike much of rural Africa, for example) also have a high unmet demand for contraception, meaning that improved contraceptive availability would likely result in a rapid and cost-effective means to reduce population pressures in priority conservation areas,” he said. Additionally, remote rural areas with high population growth rates tend to be associated with indigenous populations located in close proximity to protected forests.
For example, in Guatemala, communities surrounding Sierra de Lacandon National Park have, since 1990, grown by 10 percent each year, with birthrates averaging eight children per woman. Larger communities and larger households have led to agricultural expansion, which infringes on the park and accelerates deforestation in one of the most biologically diverse biospheres in the world, said López-Carr.
Based on these demographic and environmental trends, López-Carr suggested USAID’s work in the region should focus on rural maternal and child health, and education – especially for girls. Not only does USAID already invest in such programs, but they only cost pennies per capita and could reduce the number of rural poor living in Latin American cities by tens of millions.
Given the strong links between population density and deforestation in Latin America, expanding access to family planning would also be a smart investment in forest conservation and climate mitigation, López-Carr concluded.
Source: Population Reference Bureau.
Photo Credit: Dave Hawxhurst, Woodrow Wilson Center.›energy and water shortages, dismal education and healthcare systems, and rampant food insecurity – have finally moved to the front burner.
For several years, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Asia Program has sought to bring these problems to the attention of the international donor community. Washington’s new determination to engage with Pakistan on its development challenges – as evidenced by President Obama’s signing of the Kerry-Lugar bill and USAID administrator Raj Shah’s comments on aid to Pakistan – are welcome, but long overdue.
The crux of the current debate on aid to Pakistan is how to maximize its effectiveness – that is, how to ensure that the aid gets to its intended recipients and is used for its intended purposes. Washington will not soon forget former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf’s admission last year that $10 billion in American aid provided to fight the Taliban and al-Qaeda was instead diverted to strengthen Pakistani defenses against archrival India.
What Pakistani institutions will Washington use to channel its aid monies? In recent months, the U.S. government has considered both Pakistani NGOs and government agencies. It is now clear that Washington prefers to work with the latter, concluding that public institutions in Pakistan are better equipped to manage large infusions of capital and are more sustainable than those in civil society.
This conclusion is flawed. Simply putting all its aid eggs in the Pakistani government basket will not improve U.S. aid delivery to Pakistan, as Islamabad is seriously governance-challenged.
Granted, Islamabad is not hopelessly corrupt. It was not in the bottom 20 percent of Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index (Pakistan ranked 139 out of 180), and enjoyed the highest ranking of any South Asian country in the World Bank’s 2010 Doing Business report.
At the same time, the Pakistani state repeatedly fails to provide basic services to its population – not just in the tribal areas, but also in cities like Karachi, where 30,000 people die each year from consuming unsafe water.
Where basic services are provided, Islamabad favors wealthy, landed, and politically connected interests over those of the most needy – the very people with the most desperate need for international aid. Last year, government authorities established a computerized lottery that was supposed to award thousands of free tractors to randomly selected small farmers across Pakistan. However, among the “winners” were large landowners – including family members of a Pakistani parliamentarian.
Working through Islamabad on aid provision is essential. However, the United States also needs to diversify its aid partners in Pakistan.
For starters, Washington should look within civil society. This rich and vibrant sector is greatly underappreciated in Washington. The Hisaar Foundation, for example, is one of the only organizations in Pakistan focusing on water, food, and livelihood security.
The country’s Islamic charities also play a crucial role. Much of the aid rendered to health facilities and schools in Pakistan comes from Muslim welfare associations. Perhaps the most well-known such charity in Pakistan – the Edhi Foundation – receives tens of millions of dollars each year in unsolicited funds.
Washington should also be targeting venture capital groups. The Acumen Fund is a nonprofit venture fund that seeks to create markets for essential goods and services where they do not exist. The fund has launched an initiative with a Pakistani nonprofit organization to bring water-conserving drip irrigation to 20,000-30,000 Pakistani small farmers in the parched province of Sindh.
Such collaborative investment is a far cry from the opaque, exploitative foreign private investment cropping up in Pakistan these days – particularly in the context of agricultural financing – and deserves a closer look.
With all the talk in Washington about developing a strategic dialogue with Islamabad and ensuring the latter plays a central part in U.S. aid provision to Pakistan, it is easy to forget that Pakistan’s 175 million people have much to offer as well. These ample human resources – and their institutions in civil society – should be embraced and be better integrated into international aid programs.
While Pakistan’s rapidly growing population may be impoverished, it is also tremendously youthful. If the masses can be properly educated and successfully integrated into the labor force, Pakistan could experience a “demographic dividend,” allowing it to defuse what many describe as the country’s population time bomb.
A demographic dividend in Pakistan, the subject of an upcoming Wilson Center conference, has the potential to reduce all of Pakistan’s threats – and to enable the country to move away from its deep, but very necessary, dependence on international aid.
Michael Kugelman is program associate with the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
Photo Credit: Water pipes feeding into trash infected waterway in Karachi, courtesy Flickr user NB77.
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