The global water wars are almost upon us!
At least that’s how it seems to many. The signs are troubling: Egypt and Ethiopia have recently increased their aggressive posture and rhetoric over the construction of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam in the headwaters of the Blue Nile, Egypt’s major artery since antiquity. India continues to build new dams that are seen by its rival Pakistan as a threat to its “water interests” and thus its national security. Turkey, from its dominant position upstream, has been diverting the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and increasing water stress in the already-volatile states of Iraq and Syria.
During the Gezi Park protests last month in Istanbul, Turks and Kurds dismissed historical mistrust and banded together against Prime Minister Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism. Some have suggested the newly unifying cause has strengthened momentum for a long-standing solution to Kurdish autonomy and rights in Turkey. Still it may be water that the fate of Kurdish ambitions is most tied to, rather than officials in Ankara or protestors in Istanbul.
While there has been much research on the effect of valuable natural resource extraction on a state’s domestic development (e.g., the “resource curse”), Wilson Center Fellow Jeff Colgan focuses on how natural resource extraction affects foreign policy. In Petro-Aggression: When Oil Causes War, Colgan finds that “petrostates” – countries where revenue from oil exports exceeds 10 percent of GDP – are twice as likely to engage in inter-state conflict than non-petrostates.
›April 23, 2013 // By ECSP Staff
The original version of this article, by Josh Wood, appeared on The New York Times.
Once highly dependent on revenue from petroleum sales, the Syrian government has lost control of many of the country’s major oil fields over the past few months as Kurdish forces and the rebel Free Syrian Army have made significant gains in the east.
One year ago, the United States government froze all property of the Central Bank of Iran and other Iranian financial institutions within the United States. The move was part of a broader effort to compel the Islamic Republic to give up its alleged nuclear weapons program. How is it working out?
›March 9, 2012 // By Elizabeth Leahy MadsenThe “demographic dividend,” a concept that marries population dynamics and development economics, is on the rise in policy circles – Rajiv Shah, Melinda Gates, and African government ministers have all discussed it recently in high-level forums. Most notably for demographers, World Bank Chief Economist Justin Yifu Lin wrote a blog post that focuses on the demographic dividend’s potential to give developing countries a powerful economic boost through declining dependency ratios and a proportionately large working-age population.
However, as Lin’s post demonstrates, discussions about the dividend often give rise to two common misconceptions: one, that all youthful age structures open an opportunity for the dividend; and two, that once age structure changes are in place, economic benefits will accrue automatically.
When a Youth Bulge Is Not
Population age structure is the key link between demography and economic development. If countries wish to incur the potential economic benefits of the demographic dividend, their age structure must change. While Lin’s post describes these age structure changes in detail, it completely omits a critical step required for them to happen: fertility reduction.
Lin describes sub-Saharan Africa’s youthful population age structure as having a “youth bulge.” But this is a tricky term.
Most researchers use “youth bulge” to describe large cohorts of young adults (typically ages 15 to 29), regardless of the number of children under 15. But as Sarah Staveteig pointed out in ECSP Report 11, a “bulge” shape is only apparent in a population profile when the number of children is smaller than older age groups. For example, the U.S. age structure in 1980 (see figure below) shows a clear “bulge” of young adults due to the drop in average family size during the 1970s after the baby boom of the 1950s and early 60s. This type of youth bulge can trigger a demographic dividend, provided other sound policies are in place, because dependency ratios (the share of dependent children relative to working-age adults) decline, allowing increased savings, productivity, and investment.
Even though it’s often described as having a youth bulge, a country that simply has many young people (like Iraq in the example below) will not incur the potential economic benefits of the demographic dividend. Whether the under-15 cohort is growing or shrinking is key – and for it to shrink, fertility rates must decline first. Dependency ratios do not decline when a large cohort of youth enters the labor market and those youth are followed by even larger, younger cohorts. In that case, a country’s youthful population is on track to continue unabated into the future.
Unfortunately, Lin conflates these two very different demographic scenarios. “In a country with a youth bulge, as the young adults enter the working age, the country’s dependency ratio – that is, the ratio of the non-working-age population to the working-age population – will decline,” Lin writes. He continues:
If the increase in the number of working-age individuals can be fully employed in productive activities, other things being equal, the level of average income per capita should increase as a result. The youth bulge will become a demographic dividend. However, if a large cohort of young people cannot find employment and earn satisfactory income, the youth bulge will become a demographic bomb, because a large mass of frustrated youth is likely to become a potential source of social and political instability.At first, Lin is writing about populations with a true youth bulge – those where the dependency ratio has declined as fertility has declined. As the post correctly explains, the increase in the proportional size of the labor force, if productively employed, leads to increases in income and savings as families tend to have more workers and fewer dependents.
However, in the second part of the paragraph, Lin describes the potential “bomb” effect of a population with a large share of unemployed and frustrated youth. This is linked to a different kind of age structure, one where fertility rates remain high and the size of the cohorts entering the labor market grows year after year. As Henrik Urdal writes in his seminal study of age structure and conflict, “youth bulges in the context of continued high fertility and high dependency make countries increasingly likely to experience armed conflict.” Once dependency ratios decline – as a consequence of fertility decline – the risk of conflict goes down, even while there is still a large share of young adults.
Dependency Differences: South Korea and the DRC
To illustrate, it’s helpful to compare two different age structures that could be characterized by a “youth bulge” but face quite different development trajectories.
The World Bank post cites the example of South Korea, a frequent case study in the demographic dividend literature. South Korea and the other East Asian “Tigers” experienced annual increases in per capita income on the order of six percent between 1965 and 1990. Fertility in Korea declined over the same period from six children per woman to less than two. Studies indicate that such demographic changes were responsible for between one-fourth and two-fifths of the economic growth in the region.
nearly half of South Korea’s total labor force was composed of young adults between the ages of 15 and 29, which certainly created a “youth bulge” in the job market. But, importantly, the dependency ratio was on the way down as well: There were 61 dependents (including children and older adults, but mostly children) per 100 working-age adults – down from 81 dependents for every 100 working-age adults in 1960. Children ages 14 and younger comprised about one-third of the country’s total population, a decline from 41 percent in 1960. You can see this “bulge” in the working-age population in South Korea’s population profile for 1980 (see figure to right).
In contrast, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), young adults ages 15 to 29 comprised 54 percent of the total labor force in 2010, about five percentage points higher than South Korea’s share 30 years ago. The key difference is the size of the dependent younger cohort. Currently, children younger than 15 make up 46 percent of the DRC’s total population. Every 100 working-age adults has to economically support 96 dependents, nearly all of whom are children.
Including the dependency ratio in any discussion of age structure reveals there is little comparison between South Korea 30 years ago and the DRC and many other youthful countries in sub-Saharan Africa today. Women in the DRC have had an average of six children each since 1950, and as long as that fertility rate remains constant, the ratio of dependents to working-age adults will remain essentially equal.
As only six percent of married women in the DRC are using an effective contraceptive method, it is very unlikely that fertility will decline. More than one-quarter of women have an unmet need for family planning, meaning that they have expressed a desire to avoid pregnancy but are not using any contraception. Unless this need is met, fertility will not decline, the dependency ratio will stay high, and the DRC will not have a chance to enjoy the benefits of the demographic dividend. But this caveat is absent from Lin’s post.
More Than Age Structure
The second key misconception about the demographic dividend is that once age structure changes are in place, economic benefits will accrue automatically. Lin thoroughly summarizes the major socioeconomic investments that governments wishing to capitalize on the dividend must make, such as educating young people beyond primary school, improving the health of the population, generating jobs for youth entering the labor market, and shifting employment from agriculture towards manufacturing and service industries.
Other scholars have reviewed the importance of trade openness, flexible labor markets, and stable financial systems that encourage savings and investment – factors that were lacking in Latin America, for example, as its countries achieved a lower dependency ratio in the 1980s and 90s.
As promising as the potential benefits of the demographic dividend may be, they will not be realized without several prerequisites. Before making investments in human capital and other areas of economic development, policymakers must establish policies and programs that promote age structure changes, such as education for girls and the provision of family planning.
In sub-Saharan Africa in particular, the preeminent scholars of the demographic dividend, David Bloom et al, said it best: “If policymakers can urgently place much more emphasis on educating and empowering African girls, who ultimately represent one of the continent’s most important sources of economic and social progress, they can expect their countries to reap corollary rewards.”
Elizabeth Leahy Madsen is a consultant on political demography for the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program and senior technical advisor at Futures Group.
Sources: Bloom, Canning, and Sevilla (2003), Cincotta (2008-09), Gender Action (2011), Goldstone (2008-09), Lin (2012), MEASURE DHS, Staveteig (2005), Tsui and Hebert (2011), UN Population Division, Urdal (2006), World Bank.
Chart Credit: South Korean age structure, 1950, 2010, 2050 (medium variant estimate), data from UN Population Division; Panel A and B, Staveteig (2005); Figures 2 and 3 arranged by Sean Peoples, data from UN Population Division.
›“Is foreign aid worth the cost? That’s not really the question unless you’re Ron Paul,” quipped Carol J. Lancaster, dean of the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, at the Wilson Center on January 23. “The real questions are: What do we want to accomplish with our foreign aid? Where should it go? And in what form?” [Video Below]
Lancaster noted that following World War II, foreign aid became “a two-pronged instrument – one as an instrument of the Cold War and the other as an extension of American values.” It has been a very “intense marriage” between the two, he said, “with one side up and the other side down at different times, as any marriage tends to be.” Truman convinced Congress to provide aid to Greece and Turkey in 1948 to combat communism, and he was able to gain approval for the Marshall Plan by “scaring the wits out of Congress” about the communist threat.
Aid Under Fire
Congressman Donald Payne (N.J.), who is the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Subcommittee on Africa, agreed that the Cold War was the principal reason for our foreign aid programs after World War II, as we provided hundreds of billions of dollars in aid to our supporters around the world. But, “It’s different today,” he added. “Since the end of the Cold War, more funds are going for humanitarian and development assistance, but it is still directly linked to our national interests. One in five American jobs are tied to U.S. trade, and the growth of our trading partners is our growth as well.”
Payne cautioned that there is “a new group in the House of Representatives who think we should step out of the world. They’ve told their constituents they are going to cut the budget, and foreign aid is an easy target.” Payne noted that polls show the American people think one-quarter or more of the federal budget goes to foreign aid when it is little more than one percent.
Nevertheless, there has been bipartisan support for former President Bush’s HIV/AIDS initiative in Africa which is showing remarkable results in reducing deaths from the disease. Payne added that aid to Africa is showing results in the number of economies that are doing well despite the global economic downturn.
Payne expressed frustration with the inability to enact a foreign aid authorization bill in the last several Congresses because the measures became weighted down with all manner of policy riders that were both partisan and controversial. Consequently, our foreign relations operations are solely dependent on the annual appropriations bills which tend to become encumbered as well with troublesome riders.
The Dangers of “Nation Building”
Charles O. Flickner, Jr., a 28-year Republican staff member on the Senate Budget Committee and then the Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee in the House, presented a more skeptical view, saying foreign aid is not worth the $35 billion it is costing us each year, even though some of the programs have been successful and should be continued. The biggest problem in recent years, he said, has been the amount of money wasted on projects in Iraq and Afghanistan without adequate planning or execution. Money was being virtually shoveled out the door in amounts the host countries did not have the capacity to absorb, said Flickner, and as a consequence we have witnessed a lot of failed projects and corruption.
Smaller projects, which the U.S. government and private aid donors are better at, have a greater chance for success because they do not overwhelm the capacities of host countries. He cited some of the scholarships and technical training programs available for foreign nationals as being among the most worthwhile in building internal leadership capacity for the future in developing countries.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran agreed on the amount of wasted aid dollars being spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, which he has covered as a foreign correspondent for The Washington Post. He told the story of a small, dirt-poor town in Afghanistan he visited in where the bazaar was bustling with new shops and goods, and people were freely spending money on modern electronics, motor bikes, and clothes. The town was the beneficiary of a massive U.S. aid program that provided seed money for farmers to grow crops and created day labor jobs for the residents of the area. A contractor was authorized to spend $30 million on the economic development of the town during the U.S. counterinsurgency surge and that came to roughly $300 per person. It was clear to the USAID official on the ground and to the reporter that the experiment would not be sustainable over the long-term, even though there was a temporary sense of economic activity and prosperity.
The panel seemed to agree that it was unfair to blame USAID for these failures since they were thrown into situations overnight they were not prepared to manage in countries that were not capable of absorbing the assistance being directed at them – all in the midst of ongoing conflict. The real test of whether the new directions being charted by the Obama Administration will work will be on the smaller, more manageable projects in which the host countries have a greater role in shaping and implementing.
Lancaster listed four vulnerabilities in the future course of U.S. foreign aid that should be avoided, including trying to merge our various interests through the State and Defense Departments with our aid programs in countries like Pakistan, where the institutions are weak and corrupt; the danger of creating an entitlement dependency through funding of HIV/AIDS drugs, where we will be guilty of causing deaths if we reduce funding; the danger of attempting to undertake too many initiatives at once, such as food aid, global health, climate change, and science and technology innovations, while simultaneously trying to reform the infrastructure of USAID; and trying too hard to demonstrate results from aid given the difficulty of disentangling causes and effects and gauging success over too short a time frame.
Don Wolfensberger is director of the Congress Project at the Wilson Center.
Join the Conversation
- Increasing Resilience to Climate Change Wednesday, April 23, 2014
- Aging and Security: What Can Governments Do About Falling Birth Rates? Thursday, April 17, 2014
- Cities at the Center of the World Friday, March 28, 2014
- Costs of Climate Change May Prove High for Future
- A Risk Analyst Explains Why Climate Change Risk Misperception Doesn't Necessarily Matter
- Solar Chimneys Can Convert Hot Air to Energy, But Is Funding a Mirage?
- An apple a day bodes ill for food security in Kashmir
- The Stream, April 15: El Niño Predicted for Mid-Year, Bringing Extreme Weather | Circle of Blue WaterNews