global_prosperity_wonkcast
International development experts share their views about ways wealthy countries can promote prosperity in developing countries.

As the Ebola epidemic continued to spread in West Africa, with more than 3,000 cases and 1,500 deaths, I invited CGD senior fellow Mead Over, a health economist and one of the world’s top experts on the economics of HIV/AIDS, to discuss newly released maps from the World Health Organization (WHO) and measures for limiting the economic fallout from the epidemic.

“Ebola is much more like Avian Flu and SARS than AIDS,”Mead tells me. Its gestation period is very rapid, and that stirs a panic that creates an economic impact.

 

 

In the case of the SARS epidemic, he notes, there were only about 800 deaths but the economic impact of reduced trade, tourism and investment was estimated at about $40 billion—the equivalent of $50 million per death.

 

In the case of the Ebola epidemic, where cases will far exceed those of SARS, the economic impact could be far greaterhe says.

 

 

He emphasizes however that the Ebola epidemic so far is tiny compared to the toll of malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV, “all of which are many multiples more deadly on a continuing basis.”

 

Our conversation then turns to two maps that the WHO released late last week, one showing the location and spread of the Ebola virus (Figure 1), the other showing the location of laboratories and treatment centers (Figure 2). 

Figure 1:  Location of cases throughout the countries with most intense transmission

Figure 2: Response Monitoring

These maps are very helpful to those of us who are trying to grasp what’s happening in real time in West Africa. What they show is that we have a long way to go, Mead says.

 

 

 

He adds that it is “shocking” how few laboratories able to confirm the diagnosis are shown in the map. While there may be some additional laboratories that are not shown, the WHO maps are presumably the best information available, so either the data or the labs themselves are alarmingly lacking.

 

 

“Labs are necessary to confirm a diagnosis of Ebola. The inability to confirm a diagnosis makes it much harder for the physicians and nurses to protect themselves. It means there's a need to quarantine people who would not otherwise need to be quarantined. And quarantining is extremely difficult,” he explains. 

Released along with the two maps last week was WHO’s “Ebola Response Roadmap” which outlined steps for affected countries and the international community to contain the epidemic. 

WHO projects that if all recommended measures are taken the epidemic may be contained within 6-9 months with perhaps more than 20,000 cases.

 

 

Noting that most of the cases shown on the WHO map are recent, Mead says that the toll may be much higher.

 

 

“That’s an indication that this epidemic is growing very rapidly in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The reported cases do not seem to be close to the border of Senegal or Guinea-Bissau, but there are cases close to the borders of Mali and Cote d’Ivoire,” he says.

 

 

So while this epidemic has been confined primarily to three countries, the governments of Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Guinea-Bissau are all on the alert.

 

 

“There’s a need for all those countries to strengthen their health infrastructure at the borders,” Mead says.

Mead concludes by discussing the international community’s response to minimize the economic fallout, an issue he addresses in greater detail here

Direct download: Mead_Over_final1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 10:22 PM

As the Ebola epidemic continued to spread in West Africa, with more than 3,000 cases and 1,500 deaths, I invited CGD senior fellow Mead Over, a health economist and one of the world’s top experts on the economics of HIV/AIDS, to discuss newly released maps from the World Health Organization (WHO) and measures for limiting the economic fallout from the epidemic.

“Ebola is much more like Avian Flu and SARS than AIDS,” Mead tells me. Its gestation period is very rapid, and that stirs a panic that creates an economic impact.

In the case of the SARS epidemic, he notes, there were only about 800 deaths but the economic impact of reduced trade, tourism and investment was estimated at about $40 billion—the equivalent of $50 million per death.

In the case of the Ebola epidemic, where cases will far exceed those of SARS, the economic impact could be far greater, he says.

He emphasizes however that the Ebola epidemic so far is tiny compared to the toll of malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV, “all of which are many multiples more deadly on a continuing basis.”

Our conversation then turns to two maps that the WHO released late last week, one showing the location and spread of the Ebola virus (Figure 1), the other showing the location of laboratories and treatment centers (Figure 2). 

Figure 1:  Location of cases throughout the countries with most intense transmission

Location of cases throughout the countries with most intense transmission

Figure 2: Response Monitoring

Response Monitoring

These maps are very helpful to those of us who are trying to grasp what’s happening in real time in West Africa. What they show is that we have a long way to go, Mead says.

He adds that it is “shocking” how few laboratories able to confirm the diagnosis are shown in the map. While there may be some additional laboratories that are not shown, the WHO maps are presumably the best information available, so either the data or the labs themselves are alarmingly lacking.

“Labs are necessary to confirm a diagnosis of Ebola. The inability to confirm a diagnosis makes it much harder for the physicians and nurses to protect themselves. It means there's a need to quarantine people who would not otherwise need to be quarantined. And quarantining is extremely difficult,” he explains. 

Released along with the two maps last week was WHO’s “Ebola Response Roadmap” which outlined steps for affected countries and the international community to contain the epidemic. 

WHO projects that if all recommended measures are taken the epidemic may be contained within 6-9 months with perhaps more than 20,000 cases.

Noting that most of the cases shown on the WHO map are recent, Mead says that the toll may be much higher.

“That’s an indication that this epidemic is growing very rapidly in the countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea. The reported cases do not seem to be close to the border of Senegal or Guinea-Bissau, but there are cases close to the borders of Mali and Cote d’Ivoire,” he says.

So while this epidemic has been confined primarily to three countries, the governments of Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, and Guinea-Bissau are all on the alert.

“There’s a need for all those countries to strengthen their health infrastructure at the borders,” Mead says.

Mead concludes by discussing the international community’s response to minimize the economic fallout, an issue he addresses in greater detail here

My thanks to Aaron King for a first draft of this blog post and to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast.

Direct download: evd-sitrep1-20140828.pdf
Category: -- posted at: 9:53 PM

Mina Setra, the deputy secretary general of the Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), recently visited CGD to speak at an event about Indonesia’s efforts to prepare to participate in REDD+, the UN program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation that would offer payments from rich countries to keep tropical forests standing. Afterwards I invited Mina and CGD senior fellow Frances Seymour, the former head of the Center for International Forestry Research to join me on the Wonkcast. Our controversial topic: the complex relationships linking Indonesia’s forests, its indigenous peoples, and REDD+.

REDD+ aims to provide incentives for forest protection. That’s nothing new to Indonesia’s 70 million indigenous peoples, who, Mina tells me, “have been protecting the forests for decades” because “for us, for indigenous peoples, forests are everything.”

Though much of Indonesia’s land has belonged to and been managed by indigenous peoples for centuries, formal documentation of such ownership has typically been lacking. Mina tells me about a 1999 forestry law that claimed traditional indigenous forest as “state forest” to be managed by the ministry of forestry. As a result Indonesia’s indigenous peoples lost millions of hectares to individuals and corporations that seized control and cleared or otherwise degraded the forest through logging or conversion to palm oil plantations. Mina says that the subsequent displacement of many indigenous peoples “created a lot of problems, not only that we lost our forests but further economic and social problems.”

Frances recalls that when she first arrived in Indonesia some 25 years ago, “indigenous peoples were not only invisible, but to talk about indigenous peoples’ rights was a taboo.” Although indigenous people were recognized in the constitution, they did not have any actual operational rights to their traditional lands, she says, adding that conversations about such rights only began to gain momentum three or four years ago.

AMAN had tried to raise the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights nationally without success, Mina said. It was only when “the international community started talking about forests and REDD+ that we had the opportunity to show that we do exist,” she added. “When talking about forests, you cannot escape talking about the people who have been living there nurturing the forests since even before Indonesia existed.”

Related Blogs

Indigenous Peoples Rights and Redd+ by Frances Seymour

Not everybody views REDD+ so favorably. Indeed, a lively debate about the impact of REDD+ on indigenous land rights continues, as Frances explains in a new blog post marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Some people continue to worry that payments for forest protection envisioned by REDD+ will provide yet another reason for outsiders to push indigenous people out of their forest homes.

“The change in positioning of indigenous groups in recognizing REDD+ as having elements of opportunity and not just threat” is quite recent, says Frances. One reason: REDD+ programs developed in consultation with indigenous peoples, such as Indonesia’s ongoing national mapping initiative.

The maps give indigenous groups the opportunity to prove the legitimacy of their land claims, and Mina hopes it will continue to grow. “We hope that in 2022, we can map forty million hectares of indigenous territories all over Indonesia, as evidence that we do exist,” she says.

However, the continued success of the REDD+ programs depends on international support, Frances explains. With the noticeable exception of Norway, this has yet to happen.

Listen to the full Wonkcast for more on indigenous efforts to be recognized in Indonesia and how Mina and Frances view the interaction between indigenous people’s rights and the global effort to reduce protect forests and thereby reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases.

My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast and to Kristin Sadler for a first draft of this blog post. 

Category: -- posted at: 2:38 PM

Mina Setra, the deputy secretary general of the Indonesia’s Indigenous Peoples’ Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), recently visited CGD to speak at an event about Indonesia’s efforts to prepare to participate in REDD+, the UN program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation that would offer payments from rich countries to keep tropical forests standing. Afterwards I invited Mina and CGD senior fellow Frances Seymour, the former head of the Center for International Forestry Research to join me on the Wonkcast. Our controversial topic: the complex relationships linking Indonesia’s forests, its indigenous peoples, and REDD+.

REDD+ aims to provide incentives for forest protection. That’s nothing new to Indonesia’s 70 million indigenous peoples, who, Mina tells me, “have been protecting the forests for decades” because “for us, for indigenous peoples, forests are everything.”

Though much of Indonesia’s land has belonged to and been managed by indigenous peoples for centuries, formal documentation of such ownership has typically been lacking. Mina tells me about a 1999 forestry law that claimed traditional indigenous forest as “state forest” to be managed by the ministry of forestry. As a result Indonesia’s indigenous peoples lost millions of hectares to individuals and corporations that seized control and cleared or otherwise degraded the forest through logging or conversion to palm oil plantations. Mina says that the subsequent displacement of many indigenous peoples “created a lot of problems, not only that we lost our forests but further economic and social problems.”

Frances recalls that when she first arrived in Indonesia some 25 years ago, “indigenous peoples were not only invisible, but to talk about indigenous peoples’ rights was a taboo.” Although indigenous people were recognized in the constitution, they did not have any actual operational rights to their traditional lands, she says, adding that conversations about such rights only began to gain momentum three or four years ago.

AMAN had tried to raise the issue of indigenous peoples’ rights nationally without success, Mina said. It was only when “the international community started talking about forests and REDD+ that we had the opportunity to show that we do exist,” she added. “When talking about forests, you cannot escape talking about the people who have been living there nurturing the forests since even before Indonesia existed.”

Not everybody views REDD+ so favorably. Indeed, a lively debate about the impact of REDD+ on indigenous land rights continues, as Frances explains in a new blog post marking the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Some people continue to worry that payments for forest protection envisioned by REDD+ will provide yet another reason for outsiders to push indigenous people out of their forest homes.

“The change in positioning of indigenous groups in recognizing REDD+ as having elements of opportunity and not just threat” is quite recent, says Frances. One reason: REDD+ programs developed in consultation with indigenous peoples, such as Indonesia’s ongoing national mapping initiative.

 The maps give indigenous groups the opportunity to prove the legitimacy of their land claims, and Mina hopes it will continue to grow. “We hope that in 2022, we can map forty million hectares of indigenous territories all over Indonesia, as evidence that we do exist,” she says.

 

However, the continued success of the REDD+ programs depends on international support, Frances explains. With the noticeable exception of Norway, this has yet to happen.

Listen to the full Wonkcast for more on indigenous efforts to be recognized in Indonesia and how Mina and Frances view the interaction between indigenous people’s rights and the global effort to reduce protect forests and thereby reduce the emission of heat-trapping gases.

 

My thanks to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast and to Kristin Sadler for a first draft of this blog post. 

Direct download: Mina_Frances_5.30_edit.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 2:20 PM

(We hope that listeners who normally download the Wonkcast audio feed will find this video-rich blog post of interest!)

Nearly 200 practitioners and advocates gathered at CGD recently for an update on efforts to end within a generation female genital mutilation (FGM) and child, early and forced marriage. A satellite event for a Girl Summit in London hosted by British prime minister David Cameron and UNICEF, the CGD event was organized in conjunction with British Embassy, Girls Not Brides USA, and the Coalition for Adolescent Girls.

Welcoming the audience to the Birdsall House, CGD president Nancy Birdsall said that she had agreed to name the conference center in her honor provided that it serves not only as a space for presenting CGD’s own work but also as “a welcoming venue for the community concerned with women and development and gender equality.” She described CGD’s previous work on girls’ health and education (see here, here and here) and said that CGD senior fellow Charles Kenny is leading efforts to “find where we can have value added to an incredibly rich body of policy work and research.”

Patrick Davies, deputy head of mission at the British Embassy, then described the Summit’s core themes: “Sharing What Works” and “Agreeing an Agenda for Change.” Quoting from prime minister Cameron’s remarks at the London event, Davies said: “It is absolutely clear what we are trying to achieve. It such a simple, but noble and good ambition, and this is to outlaw the practice of female genital mutilation and early and forced marriage; to outlaw them everywhere, for everyone within a generation.”

The first panel, on Sharing What Works, was moderated by Judithe Registre, PLAN International USA, Coalition for Adolescent Girls Steering Committee, and featured:

  • Ann Warner, Senior Gender and Youth Specialist, International Center for Research on Women (ICRW), Representative, Girls Not Brides, who highlighted ICRW strategies to help end child marriage: (1) providing social support and education to girls who are at risk of early marriage and who are already married, and (2) working with girls’ families and communities as girls often don’t have the power to control their own futures. Warner announced ICRW and the World Bank will be conducting a three-year study to define the economic costs of child and early forced marriage.
     
  • Antonia Kirkland, Legal Advisor, Equality Now, stressed that ending FGM—which she said affects an estimated 3 million girls each year—is a human rights issue. While enforcement of laws prohibiting FGM can be a major deterrent, ending FGM will require further raising awareness and educating people about how they can help to prevent the practice.
     
  • Jeanne Smoot, Senior Counsel for Policy and Strategy, Tahirih Justice Center, described a 2011 US national survey of 500 teachers, police officers, domestic violence advocates and social workers, which revealed 3,000 cases of forced marriage had been encountered in the US. She announced that the Tahirih Justice Center, in collaboration with a partner in Canada, will be launching a major outreach tour this September in New York.

Between panels, a brief video of UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon from the London event was shown. Secretary Ki Moon called for the end of FGM and early and child forced marriages and commended “global leaders and brave activities for confronting these problems, especially the courageous young women in these affected communities.”

The second panel, on Agreeing an Agenda for Change, focused on UK and US governments’ commitments to help end FGM and early and forced marriages. The panel was moderated by Rachel Vogelstein, Director of Women and Girls Programs, Clinton Foundation, and featured:

  • Emma Wade, Counsellor of the Foreign and Security Policy Group, British Embassy, who shared the UK government’s efforts, including donating $50 million to support 17 African countries to end FGM, $40 million to a joint UN program around ending child marriage, and $50 million to a new research program to find the best ways of transforming the lives of poor girls. Domestically, the UK has established and is enforcing relevant laws to provide the legal framework to address such issues and prime minister Cameron has committed $2.4 million to a prevention and care initiative.
     
  • Carla Koppell, Chief Strategy Officer and former Senior Gender Coordinator, US Agency for International Development, underscored that an integrated framework to ending FGM and child marriage – i.e., one that includes the education, health, legal and economic sectors – is critical to USG efforts. She also reiterated USAID administrator Raj Shah’s announcements from the London event, highlighting that the USG has committed to investments in Nepal, Bangladesh, and Yemen that will build on existing programs and complement efforts to change behaviors and attitudes and enforce laws surrounding FGM and child marriage.
     
  • Wanda Jones, Assistance Secretary for Health, Department of Health and Human Services, noted that data on the prevalence of FGM and child marriage in the US has been extremely limited. Efforts to raise awareness and build accountability for these issues in the US are just beginning, she said.

You can watch a video of the entire event here. To learn more about FGM and child and early forced marriages, and to sign the Girl Summit pledge, visit girlsummitpledge.com.

 

 

 

 

Category: -- posted at: 2:03 PM

TPP? TTIP? In the world of trade negotiations, there is no shortage of acronyms. And who better to break them down for us than Harsha Singh, former deputy director general at the World Trade Organization? Harsha recently visited CGD to join Kim Elliott in leading a roundtable to discuss with other trade experts the implications of these proposed mega-regional trading blocs for developing countries. After the roundtable, I invited Harsha to join me on the Wonkcast to explain the development implications of these trade deals to interested non-experts, with a particular focus on the impacts of smaller, poorer countries who are unlikely to be included.

Proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would include the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Japan; and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which is proposed to include the US and EU, arose in part out of frustration with the World Trade Organization's Doha Round, Harsha explains. 

The TPP and TTIP aim to enhance trade and investment among members, but they could also pose huge challenges for small, poor countries that find themselves excluded, he says. One of the primary concerns “is the diversion of markets away from their products to those who get preferential treatment as members of these mega-regionals.” Harsha says that while most of the focus has been on tariff preference erosion, nontariff barriers to market access may pose a much more serious problem. 

“The important thing is not just meeting the standards, but also the system which is used to determine that the standard actually is consistent with what is being demanded," Harsha explains. "That system can often be exclusionary.”

For more on these issues, read Kim Elliott's account of the roundtable discussion and listen to the Wonkcast. Among the topics we tackle: the impact of the mega-regional trade deals on the big emerging market economies, Brazil, China, and India, and the global value chain for an iconic 21st century product: the iPhone.

My thanks to Kristin Sadler for a first draft of this blog post and to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast. 

Direct download: Harsha_Singh_6.30_edit2_1.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 8:39 PM

TPP? TTIP? In the world of trade negotiations, there is no shortage of acronyms. And who better to break them down for us than Harsha Singh, former deputy director general at the World Trade Organization? Harsha recently visited CGD to join Kim Elliott in leading a roundtable to discuss with other trade experts the implications of these proposed mega-regional trading blocs for developing countries. After the roundtable, I invited Harsha to join me on the Wonkcast to explain the development implications of these trade deals to interested non-experts, with a particular focus on the impacts of smaller, poorer countries who are unlikely to be included.

Proposals for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) arose in part out of frustration with the World Trade Organization’s Doha Round, Harsha explains. (The TPP is proposed to include the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Japan; TTIP would include the United States and the EU.)

The TPP and TTIP aim to enhance trade and investment among members, but they could also pose huge challenges for small, poor countries that find themselves excluded, he says. One of the primary concerns “is the diversion of markets away from their products to those who get preferential treatment as members of these mega-regionals.” Harsha says that while most of the focus has been on tariff preference erosion, nontariff barriers to market access may pose a much more serious problem. 

“The important thing is not just meeting the standards, but also the system which is used to determine that the standard actually is consistent with what is being demanded," Harsha explains. "That system can often be exclusionary.”

For more on these issues, read Kim Elliott's account of the roundtable discussion and listen to the Wonkcast. Among the topics we tackle: the impact of the mega-regional trade deals on the big emerging market economies, Brazil, China, and India, and the global value chain for an iconic 21st century product: the iPhone.

My thanks to Kristin Sadler for a first draft of this blog post and to Kristina Wilson for recording and editing the Wonkcast. 

Category: -- posted at: 6:22 PM

Is the revolution upon us? When it comes to data, the development world seems to be saying yes, Yes, YES! To look beyond the hype, I invited Amanda Glassman, a CGD senior fellow and director of our global health policy program, to join me on the show to discuss a new report from the Data for African Development working group that looks at Africa’s statistical capacity, warts and all. It turns out that the revolution may not be all it’s cranked up to be, and that well-intentioned outsiders—donors especially—are too often part of the problem.

A partnership with the  African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, the working group found that in Africa such statistical fundamentals as taxes and trade, births and deaths, and growth and poverty are frequently outdated, inaccurate or simply unavailable.  How badly out of whack? In recent months Ghana and Nigeria have recalculated the size of their economies and come up with GDP estimates that are more than two-thirds larger.

I ask Amanda if big data is going to solve these problems. Is there hope that Africa will simply be swept up in a big data tsunami?

Amanda has her doubts. In much of Africa, she says, statistical capacity is at such a standstill: it has remained unchanged for the last ten years according to the index of statistical capacity published by the World Bank.

“Certainly big data and new technologies are very exciting, and offer some really interesting opportunities to collect new data… On the other hand, if countries don’t have a national statistical system in place that to just produce the basics, they will be missing opportunities to harness these new capabilities and the opportunities to use big data.”

Why the lack of progress? Amanda says there’s plenty of blame to go around (she calls it “collective guilt”), specifically a mis-match between the priorities of African governments and the donors. Governments need sub-national data to help guide budgetary and policy decisions, she explains, while external donors often want national-level data to make allocation decisions across countries.

How to resolve this tension? The working group proposes a data compact that would be initiated by an African president or minister of finance and draw upon the support of interested external funders. The compact would be a means for all interested parties to agree upon a phased set of actions to address data problems, and a method for tracking progress. The compact could even take the form of a pay-for-performance endeavor (see CGD’s Cash-on-Delivery Aid proposal for one such example).

“The idea would be to say ‘we’re going prioritize some aspect of the building blocks (such as data on births and deaths) that we have not achieved in our country,’” Amanda explains. Compact participants would agree on measures of progress in the accuracy, timeliness and openness of that data. A big, high-level political commitment could be useful in mobilizing the necessary funding from a combination of donors and governments, she says.

We close our conversation with a look toward the post-2015 development framework. Will the working group’s findings and recommendations become a part of that ongoing debate? Absolutely, Amanda replies. “We’ll do our very best to let it be known that this would be a good idea. Certainly were engaged in the process and talking to all the different people who are involved.”

To learn more about the working group’s findings and recommendations, listen to the Wonkcast, see Amanda’s blog post, or read the report

Category: -- posted at: 1:14 PM

Is the revolution upon us? When it comes to data, the development world seems to be saying yes, Yes, YES! To look beyond the hype, I invited Amanda Glassman, a CGD senior fellow and director of our global health policy program, to join me on the show to discuss a new report from the Data for African Development working group that looks at Africa’s statistical capacity, warts and all. It turns out that the revolution may not be all it’s cranked up to be, and that well-intentioned outsiders—donors especially—are too often part of the problem.

 A partnership with the  African Population and Health Research Center in Nairobi, the working group found that in Africa such statistical fundamentals as taxes and trade, births and deaths, and growth and poverty are frequently outdated, inaccurate or simply unavailable.  How badly out of whack? In recent months Ghana and Nigeria have recalculated the size of their economies and come up with GDP estimates that are more than two-thirds larger.

 I ask Amanda if big data is going to solve these problems. Is there hope that Africa will simply be swept up in a big data tsunami?

 Amanda has her doubts. In much of Africa, she says, statistical capacity is at such a standstill: it has remained unchanged for the last ten years according to the index of statistical capacity published by the World Bank.

 “Certainly big data and new technologies are very exciting, and offer some really interesting opportunities to collect new data… On the other hand, if countries don’t have a national statistical system in place that to just produce the basics, they will be missing opportunities to harness these new capabilities and the opportunities to use big data.”

 

 Why the lack of progress? Amanda says there’s plenty of blame to go around (she calls it “collective guilt”), specifically a mis-match between the priorities of African governments and the donors. Governments need sub-national data to help guide budgetary and policy decisions, she explains, while external donors often want national-level data to make allocation decisions across countries.

 How to resolve this tension? The working group proposes a data compact that would be initiated by an African president or minister of finance and draw upon the support of interested external funders. The compact would be a means for all interested parties to agree upon a phased set of actions to address data problems, and a method for tracking progress. The compact could even take the form of a pay-for-performance endeavor (see CGD’s Cash-on-Delivery Aid proposal for one such example).

 “The idea would be to say ‘we’re going prioritize some aspect of the building blocks (such as data on births and deaths) that we have not achieved in our country,’” Amanda explains. Compact participants would agree on measures of progress in the accuracy, timeliness and openness of that data. A big, high-level political commitment could be useful in mobilizing the necessary funding from a combination of donors and governments, she says.

 We close our conversation with a look toward the post-2015 development framework. Will the working group’s findings and recommendations become a part of that ongoing debate? Absolutely, Amanda replies. “We’ll do our very best to let it be known that this would be a good idea. Certainly were engaged in the process and talking to all the different people who are involved.”

 

 To learn more about the working group’s findings and recommendations, listen to the Wonkcast, see Ananda’s blog post, or read the report

 

Direct download: amanda_620.mp3
Category:general -- posted at: 1:02 PM

If data wants to be free, then PovcalNet, the world’s leading dataset on global poverty, is happier today because it was recently made available for download in bulk by my guests on this week’s Wonkcast, CGD research fellow Justin Sandefur and research assistant Sarah Dykstra. Scraping the data was no easy task: it required devising code that queried the database for one answer at a time, 23 million times, over nine weeks, then reassembling the 8 million resulting data points answers into a single dataset.  They then posted the dataset and a related paper online for the use of researchers around the world.

Justin and Sarah tell me that they were motivated to scrape the PovcalNet website in part because they needed the full dataset for their own research, and in part because they knew other researchers had a similar need. Lacking the full dataset, they and others previously had no option but to spend hours pointing and clicking, one number at a time, to get the specific information they needed. (The code needed to run the queries was beyond what we could manage here at CGD, so the pair turned to Sarah’s brother, independent programmer Benjamin Dykstra.)

Since individual data points were already online—albeit not in a readily accessible format—the project involved no “hacking.” I ask whether they tried first just asking the World Bank for the dataset. Justin explains that, "...the underlying raw data isn’t even available to many researchers within the Bank.”

I say that this surprises me, especially given the Bank’s open data policy.

“There’s a lively internal debate in the World Bank about whether or not this data should be public,” Justin tells me. “But not all data that the World Bank has are covered by the open data policy…it was pointed out to us that PovcalNet is not.”

The value of having the full dataset publicly available became evident soon after, when the International  Comparison Project (ICP) released new Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) numbers—something that only happens every five to six years. Combining the scraped PovcalNet data with the newly updated PPP numbers, Justin and Sarah produced a startling new estimate: it seems that global poverty had fallen by half. Their blog post announcing this finding set off a fiery debate in the comments field, starting with comments from CGD non-resident fellow Martin Ravallion, who in a long career at the World Bank earned a reputation as one of the world’s leading experts on poverty measurement.  These comments in turn led to revisions in the blog post.

Justin says that the entire process illustrates the importance of making research data publicly available. 

“We’re living in a new era where there are a lot of people participating in this analysis and this conversation, and a million eyeballs can find lots of mistakes.” Justin says. “So let’s put all the data and the code in the public domain and open up that conversation.”

So, what exactly was the World Bank’s response to their efforts and the resulting new poverty estimates?

“Annoyance is probably the right word,” Justin says. “The stance of the research department now seems to be, reading between the lines, that ‘we don’t really trust these [new PPP] numbers, and we’ll reserve judgment on whether we should use them yet.’”

It’s an exciting story, with some unexpected twists and turns. To hear it, and learn what Justin and Sarah have planned next, tune in to the full Wonkcast. 

Category: -- posted at: 8:53 PM