29 February 2012

Mixed Progress Toward the MDGs in Asia Pacific

Having just returned from India, it is not shocking that countries in Asia and the Pacific are well behind in bringing basic sanitation to their citizens.  Rapid urbanization may have a role to play in the lack of progress.

I will starting publishing a few articles and posts based on the trip that will share what I learned about safe water. It looks like the region is in good shape towards the achievement of the MGD on safe water. I need to dig a bit deeper into this part of the data. The inability to drink the water coming to your home is still a pretty big deal.

The summary of the chart from The Economist:
The proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day fell from 50% in 1990 to 22% in 2009. In terms of warm bodies, this means a reduction from 1.57 billion people to 871m. The region has also been an "early achiever" on other targets such as the education of girls and reducing the spread of HIV and tuberculosis. Asia is also close to halving the number of people without access to safe drinking water. But the region as a whole has been slow to improve basic sanitation and maternal health care. Over 3m children under-five died in 2010. Thousands of women die each year in labour, which is perhaps unsurprising as some 22m women give birth without a trained health professional present.

27 February 2012

Looking at Social Programs Vs. Entitlements

The following post originally appears on the Huffington Post. I wade a bit into domestic policy and poverty. Something that I do not do often is try to push a topic a bit forward to spark conversation. In terms of experience, this is an area where I have more significant understanding having worked on the side as a teacher and an AmeriCorps program manager. I would love to hear your thoughts.

The present political climate in the United States has led to a full assault on social programs, demeaned as "entitlements" by opponents. The race for the Republican nominee has become a place to beat up on social programs. Newt Gingrich has gone on to call President Obama "the best food-stamp president in American history."

Critics are posing "entitlements" as an obstacle to a balanced budget that can and should be removed. They point to data that direct payments to individuals are up by 32% since 2009. More people are collecting unemployment and participation in food stamps have increased.

In the critics' narrative, the increase in social programs is illustrative of a federal government run amok. An unchecked government is spending without care and damaging generations to come, argue pundits on the radio and airwaves.

Conveniently, the rise in unemployment and general financial strain on Americans precipitated by the bursting of the housing bubble and 2008 financial crisis is ignored. The reason more people are using social programs is because they are in need of assistance.

Bill Ayres, co-founder of WhyHunger, spoke about the struggle faced by many Americans, "Recently, I had a call on my radio show from a woman who raised four kids and had to work a couple of jobs in order to get by. We do believe in hard work, but we do not respect and reward certain kinds of work. If people work hard they should be able to make it."

Ayres argues that the problem has less to do with unemployment than poor wages. According to him, more than two-thirds of Americans who are minimum wage workers are adults. The myth that minimum wage is generally the work of teenagers does not hold up. Of those adults, 40% are the sole support of their family.

People are working, but like the women who called into Ayres's show, they are not making enough to get by. Social programs provide a support for these millions of Americans to have the opportunity to provide for themselves. "All these federal programs are not there to allow people to not do anything. They are there to support people in low wage jobs."

Empowering people to get out of poverty will take a multi-faceted approach. For Ayres and WhyHunger, the way to achieve empowerment is through self-sufficiency. This includes direct services and the provision of resources. By calling the hunger hotline (1.886.3hungry) people can access an information line on how to get emergency meals or enroll in government programs like the school lunch program for children and SNAP for families.

Such resources support hard working Americans in need of support so that they can eventually provide for their families. Rather than replacing work, social benefit programs provide support, explained Ayres. "I would love it if we didn't have to have food stamps and all these other programs," he said, but underemployment does not allow this reality to exist quite yet.

A solution that Ayres offers is for a gradual increase in the minimum wage. After that point, it will need to be indexed against inflation to reflect changes over time. The next step will be do alter the way that education is structured. "We have reduced the opportunity for hard working people to go to school. Everyone should have access to the type of continuing education that will allow them to get the job that they need to make a living," he said.

Ayres shows that the government programs are not a solution unto themselves. When shaped correctly, they can provide a hand up rather than create dependencies. Millions of Americans have been hit hard by the economic downturn and are working hard to escape the trap of poverty. Mischaracterizing social welfare programs makes it hard to adequately understand and address these problems. Only by understanding how they support hard working Americans can meaningful discussions about how to improve social welfare programs begin.

24 February 2012

Mamma Mia! Best News Source 2011

It was no contest for best news source among aid and development blog readers. The relatively new Guardian Development site claimed the top spot well ahead of the competition.

AlertNet (Reuters)
Guardian Development
Al Jazeera
I thought it would have been much closer, but it appears that the mix of blogging and news reporting has worked well for the Guardian. It is evident that there was a sore need in aid and development reporting that the site has successfully filled for many people.

Thus ends the 2011 ABBAs. Do not worry, it is only one more year until you get to enjoy aid blogs and Sweedish pop in one place!

My my, how can I resist you?

Partnering For Family Planning in India

The following was written while I was in Delhi, India last week and appears originally in the PSI Healthy Lives blog.

Last week, I had the good fortune of spending time with the team PSI/India team here in Delhi. I learned about the work that PSI/India is doing in this area of the country to address the issue of family planning. The Women's Health Programme (WHP) focuses on using intrauterine devices as a non-permanent option for women to have the ability to choose when they want to have a baby. It's stated goal is "to improve the health status and quality of life among vulnerable and poor women by reducing maternal mortality and morbidity."
IUDs are already available and also have long been provided by the government. However, uptake of IUDs remained static at around 2%[1] for last 15 years due to prevalence of many myths and misconceptions. To close this gap, PSI/India is serving as a partner with private service providers and the Government of India to reach more people. One of PSI's strength is harnessing the core competence of the private sector, so it was only natural that it could be the bridge for the beneficiaries by expanding the choice between the public and the private facilities.

Through awareness and social marketing, PSI/India reaches out to women who are of reproductive age and may be interested in using an IUD as a form of birth control and medical professionals who recommend and insert IUDs.

An objective has been set to increase IUD uptake in 20 districts inDelhi, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan from 3% in 2010 to 4.1% in 2012. To do so, PSI/India uses targeted community health workers (called IPCs) to reach women of reproductive age group in the districts who are either not using any modern contraceptives, are  inconsistent condom users or are pregnant.

Initially, PSI team of IPCs canvassed every home of a district to provide information about expanded choice of contraception including IUDs. It was apparent that the method of outreach was slow and ineffective.

PSI/India started afresh by mapping every household in selected urban clusters of each district. The process involved the physical mapping of the households and then determining a profile for each. The data was then drawn and clusters were determined where IPCs could cover a group based on geography and households who fit the profile that is eligible for an IUD.
The baseline mapping found 900,000 households in the 20 districts. Of that number, 882,000 were determined to have eligible women. With the clusters and data, the IPCs set out to see 15 women a day. Each women is coded with a specific number in order to help protect her identity.

Today, I had the opportunity to see one of these visits in Delhi. The IPC presented a pair of women with information on IUDs. By using a model of the uterus, she was able to show the women what would happen when the device is inserted into them. A simple 10 minute procedure from start to finish by a doctor can ensure that a women will not get pregnant for five years. Being that it is as easy to remove as it is to insert, the IUD is a simple solution.

The visit was the second time the IPC had met with these women.  In the morning, the IPC completed her round of 15 new visits, where she shared information about options available for contraception and was using the afternoon for follow ups. By recording the information about each visit, she can identify which women are more likely to want an IUD in the future and be sure to follow up with them.

I also met one of the partner providers, Dr Sadhana Singh. She and her husband provide reproductive health services such as IUD insertions and vasectomies. The focus under the program is to provide quality services at an affordable cost. The follow-up with the beneficiary is done by the IPC and through an outbound call by a helpline.

Dr. Sadhana Singh explained that IUDs provide the best option for women to take control of their reproductive life and felt that it was paramount that this service be provided to them. By aligning partners like Dr Singh and the government ofIndiato meet the needs of Indian women, PSI/India believes that it can reach its objective of increasing coverage of IUD to 4.1% by the end of this year.

[1] International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS) and Macro International. (2007). National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3), 2005–06:India:VolumeI. Mumbai: IIPS.

The Best in Aid Blogging 2011

There is no use in writing a post for each of these categories when they confirm the overall award for Best Aid Blog at the ABBAs 2011. Because of that, ABBA will not do for the man who is 'simply the best.' As the results show, Chris Blattman has set himself ahead of the pack. His posts are a mix of academic musings, mommy blogging (as Wronging Rights would say), analysis, and quick hitters from recent studies. As an overall resource, Chris is one of the best. It is why he won as blogger and for twitter.

If the US government is looking for advice on how to win hearts and minds, an obvious adviser is everyone's favorite aid blogger from the north.

Best Aid Blog

Chris Blattman - http://chrisblattman.com/
Tales From the Hood - http://talesfromethehood.com/
From Poverty to Power - http://www.oxfamblogs.org/fp2p/
Why Dev - http://whydev.org
Blood and Milk - http://bloodandmilk.org/
World Bank Development Impact Blog - http://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/

Best Academic Blog

African Arguments - http://africanarguments.org/blog/
Chris Blattman - http://chrisblattman.com
Marc F. Bellemare - http://marcbellemare.com
Ed Carr - http://www.edwardrcarr.com/opentheechochamber/
Lawrence Haddad - http://www.developmenthorizons.com/
Best Blog Design
Good Intents - http://goodintents.org/
Global Dashboard - globaldashboard.org
Chris Blattman - http://chrisblattman.com
Owen Barder - http://owen.org
More Altitude - http://morealtitude.wordpress.com/
Shotgun Shack - http://shotgunshackblog.com/
All the finalists should not be glossed over on account of Mr. Blattman's sweep. There excellent blogs in the mix and even the ones that were nominated for best design were recognized because of having a regular audience.

As I have noted before, the contest continued to tilt towards men. I really have little idea as to why. Possibly it has something to do with it being a largely academic field and maybe there are more men in the social sciences that deal with poverty alleviation (I have absolutely no data on hand for this and could be entirely wrong). There could be a gender bias. I am not sure.

Sing it Tina!

23 February 2012

Put on Your White Sombrero: Best Group Blog 2011

It's a tie! The killer pair of brilliant lawyers Kate and Amanda of Wronging Rights went toe to toe with the super think tankers at CGD and forced a draw.  Not far behind are Why Dev and the World Bank Impact blog. I said there were no other close races in the ABBAs 2011 and boy was I wrong.

Why Dev - 15.2%
Wronging Rights - 21.6%
Global Dashboard - 9.3%
Triple Crisis - 1.7%
World Bank Development Impact - 17.4%
Center for Global Development - 21.6%
Project Syndicate - 5.7%
Think Africa Press - 7.4%

CGD had its fair share of debates this year, but Wronging Rights calling Chris Blattman a mommy blogger served as a warning call that nobody, even the beloved Blattman, is safe from their witty (and at times snarky) analysis of international issues.

Now let's all sing along... Put on your white sombrero / Saddle your horse my dear / And ride off into the sunset / You'd better go / For there is no / Place for you here

Land Rights and Oil Pipelines

The film Quel Souvenir tells the story of the construction of an oil pipeline, with the help of the World Bank, to carry crude oil from Chad to Cameroon. It focuses on the lack of rights for the people who live along the planned pipeline. One of the issues at hand is the lack of land ownership. Without proper deeds, few people are able to make complete claims to their land.

There are many layers of powerlessness taking place here, but land ownership sits at the forefront. Landesa makes the case why land rights are important (for the data sources go here).

Finally, check out the interview on Africa Is a Country of the film's director Danya Abt and executive producer ValĂ©ry Nodem. 

That's Me! Best Organizational Blog 2011

The heavy hitters came out in full force with a race between the Center for Global Development, the World Bank and Oxfam (UK). Two group blogs against Duncan Green's From Poverty to Power ended in the triumph of the individual.

Center for Global Development - 27.8%
USAID Impact - 2.8%
Oxfam UK (From Poverty to Power) - 31.8%
Peace Dividend Trust - 3.4%
CGAP - 4.7%
Global Voices by American Jewish World Service - 12.5%
World Bank Development Impact - 17.0% 

What stands out is that the blogs are of a much more academic bend. There were no nominations for blogs from the big NGOs. FP2P is an exception of sorts, but it is largely Green's wonky musings that makes it much more similar to CGD and Development Impact. This illustrates what I have observed to be a gap between the social media community represented by these nominees and the traditional NGO world.

Looking at the ABBAs as a whole, there are very few NGOs represented. That is in part due to this not being an NGO blog, but it also shows that there is a significant audience who does not care for or is unimpressed by what NGOs are offering through social media.

There are people who crave understanding more and getting into the wonky debates that are not limited to academics. Practitioners participate in the space just as fluidly, but are nearly always in a personal capacity. What links the nominees in this category is that they talk less about their organization and more about and and development at large. FP2P and PDT talk about themselves from time to time, but their bread and butter posts are looking at the industry. Is it possible that is why people go to read the blogs by these organizations?

The part you love most; ABBA:

22 February 2012

The Best Debate of 2011 Went On and On and On

Just when you thought the only game in town was Bill Easterly and Jeffrey Sachs, in come a set of researchers who sparked a whole new debate with Sachs. There is no doubt that the most talked about and read aid debate this year centered around Sachs's Millennium Village Project (MVP).

It all stared in late 2010 when Michel Clemens and Gabriel Demombynes published a paper calling into question the rigor of the MVP. A rather quiet back and forth ensued between the researchers and the MVP camp that simmered to the point of scheduling an open debate. People anticipated the chance to see the two sides discuss the MVP in a public setting, but were let down when it was ultimately canceled. Ultimately, a debate between John McArthur and Gabriel Demombynes did take place.  A year after the release of the paper, Madeline Bunting of Guardian Development picked up on the debate by writing an article that veered a bit towards the questions raised by Clemens and Demombynes.

Jeffery Sachs is provided the opportunity to respond by the Guardian and sets off a series of posts by Michel Clemens, Lawrence Haddad, David McKenzie, Berk Ozler, Charity Ngilu, and many more (a rundown of the posts). It is still unresolved, but the flurry of posts and discussions pulled in many researchers and advocates.

The New Bottom Billion
Randomized Control Trials
#SWEDOW (Stuff We Don't Want)
Treatment as Prevention
The Millennium Village Project
Microloans vs Microsavings
100k Shirts
A debate that emerged this past year that has yet to reach its peak is that over RCTs. If I had to make a prediction, we will see it in the next edition of the ABBAs. The criticisms have been written, but have yet to grow into a rapid debate and buzz as seen in the MVP debate and 100k shirts last year.