29 November 2013

Economic Growth in India in the context of a Gandhi vs Modi election: for what and for whom?

On Wednesday PRIA and IDS co-hosted a Question Time style panel on economic growth--what is it delivering and for whom?  We had Isher Ahluwalia, Santosh Mehrotra, Biraj Patnaik and Santhosh Mathew on he panel, chaired by Rajesh Patel, President of PRIA.

It was a lively discussion, with passion, frankness and  insight displayed by panel and audience alike.

Some key takeaways for me....

1. All of the panelists said that growth was essential for development.  I was a little disappointed that there was not a greater recognition that certain types are essential and other types are irrelevant and could be harmful (e.g that which corrupts and pollutes).  There seems to be an acceptance that these things are the price one has to pay for the good things that growth can generate (e.g. poverty reduction), but I simply think there is not enough of a focus on the quality of growth and the kinds of choices that Ha Joon Chang lays out in his book, 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism.

2.  We were reminded about how much economic growth of the period 2004-2010 (the highest growth period) reduced income poverty incidence (P0 the % below the poverty line)--over 100 million.  But there was no mention of the poverty gap (P1) and the poverty gap squared (P2) which measure the depth of poverty and are less sensitive to families just clawing their way above the line to make a big differences to the statistics. 

3. There was little mention of inequality, and yet Brazil's success is decreasing inequality was lauded.  I think it is probably easier to reduce very high inequality levels than it is to curb increases in lower initial levels, but I was surprised this issue did not surface, especially as I could see  Brazil/Turkey/Egypt style  unrest occurring over high tax rates and poor quality services.

4. Someone in the audience said, does it matter what public policy types think?  Surely all politicians care about is vote getting?  The panel said they were glad that politicians were so focused on doing things that captured votes (worse if they were insensitive) but they acknowledged that this led to short termism and populism.  There were also concerns that the media was now in hock to big businesses aligned with certain parties and what would this do to further corrode trust between the voters and politicians.  One idea for the panel was for civil society to align more around electoral units than administrative units, thus generating more political heat for poor public policy choices and electoral reward for the good choices.

5. Corruption was highlighted as a big issue in the growth story--was is a consequence of growth or a driver of it?  Views here were really mixed with some data cited that showed leakage and diversion from food programmes declining with others highly sceptical.  In a context of distrust it is obviously going to be a challenge to get credible data on corruption and for it to be seen to be credible!

6. On nutrition, I asked the panelists if the Government of India cared.  One of the panelists firmly said "no", the others chose not to defend the Government's record. To be fair all of the panelists recognised the need to do something about India's appalling record on sanitation and solid waste disposal.   At an earlier meeting with the Coalition for Sustainable Nutrition Security in India it was clear that the States are the drivers of innovation in nutrition, with Odisha and Maharashtra being cited frequently.

7. Finally on urban development, one of the panelists raised the importance of cities as drivers of economic growth for urban and rural areas, but that this would require infrastructure of all types to be built (roads, electricity, sewage) of course the strategic choices here are whether to invest in infrastructure that maximises growth or that which maximises poverty reduction.  Studies in Indian agriculture by Shenggen Fan have shown that these two aims lead to different patterns of investment. 

All in all an interesting discussion on an impossible set of exam questions (growth for whom, for what, and what to do about it?). 

At least there was the beginning of a recognition that the quality of growth is at least as important at the quantity.  This debate is only going to heat up as we near the election, especially give the rise of the BJP Chief Minister of Gujurat, Narendra Modi who is promising to focus on improving basic services for the poor and to tackle corruption, which he says is an inevitable consequence of social protection programmes promoted under the Singh/Gandhi Congress Government.  Its going to be an interesting 6 months in the world's largest democracy.

15 November 2013

Haiyan--the meaning of a name

Haiyan is a girl's name. It is a rare name. Ironically it means sea swallow. The website www.themeaningofthename.com suggests "there are at least 2500 persons in the world having this name". Bizarrely this is the number of those who are estimated to have died in this tragedy--to have been swallowed by the sea.

Tragically these typhoons and hurricanes are not rare. They happen with regularity to countries in the South and South East Asian region. The World Bank released a report over the summer reviewing the science on cyclones. The science is not clear on whether there has been an increase in the frequency of cyclones, but the evidence is clear on projections of the increased intensity of cyclones--more rain, more wind, more strength--as a result of global warming.

Does this increased intensity have to mean more devastation?
190 mile an hour winds are going to do a lot of damage, no matter where in the world they land, but if you look at the disturbing before and after pictures (e.g. above) you can see it is the least solid buildings nearest to the coast that are obliterated.

Some obvious responses:
  • Building codes in areas of vulnerability have to be raised.
  • Insurance needs to become more affordable--at the national (i.e. Risk Capacity Facilities linked to weather patterns) and household level.
  • Outmigration from certain areas may be needed.
  • Greater spending from governments--donors and others--needs to be allocated to disaster risk reduction and preparedness (DRR).
  • DRR spending is less than 1% of ODA (and 4% of ODA humanitarian aid!) and has not increased significantly over the past 10 years. At the very least designate and protect safe routes for humanitarian assistance to get through (Haiyan victims are having to wait up to a week to get any help, largely due to the logistical problems of reaching them)
  • Invest more in Forward Purchasing Facilities (FPF) that allow advance purchases to shorten response times (WFP estimates that its 2008-2010 pilot FPF shortened response times by 53 days)
  • The poorest are the most vulnerable. Their lives and livelihoods will be permanently altered, even if they suffered not loss of life or trauma. Estimates of those affected from these massive cyclones range from 1-10% of the population.
  • Don't play politics with humanitarian aid. China is reportedly being much less generous with the Philippines than with the recent cylones in Bangladesh and Pakistan, again reportedly due to diplomatic issues around the possession of islands.
  • Set some targets for reducing these disaster deaths--soon. The UN High Level Panel on the next set of development goals has as one of its 4 indicators on Ending Poverty 1d. Build resilience and reduce deaths from natural disasters by x%". Get a number of x. I suggest 50--here is one indicator we know how to move quickly.
  • Don't use every natural disaster to bang the climate change drum. As my IDS colleague Tom Tanner said in his recent guest blog "don't lead with climate change. Climate change needs to be put in the context of the most important other issues". World Bank President Jim Kim was leading with this on BBC radio earlier this week and it sounded too opportunistic.

Haiyan also means "heart". The Philippines was the first country I ever visited outside of North West Europe and I know its people well enough. They have heart and courage and they will get through this.

But lightning really does strike more than once--and it projected to be stronger than ever. ASEAN governments, the ADB and the rest of the development community needs to prevent another cyclone obliterating a population the size of its own name. It can be done.

14 November 2013

Double Dutch: TV Interview with Haddad on Malnutrition from VPRO in the Netherlands

Here is an interview (25 minutes!) I did with a charming interviewer from Dutch TV station VPRO on hunger and malnutrition. I don't look this geeky all the way through it, I promise.

Indian Growth: For Whom and For What?

I will be travelling to Delhi to participate in a PRIA-IDS panel seminar on:

Indian Economic Growth: For Whom and For What?

An election is coming up in India, and with economic growth still relatively strong the disconnects between human wellbeing outcomes and growth become even more striking.

The panel will pick up on some of the themes highlighted by the recent exchanges between Sen, Dreze, Bhagwati, Dasgupta and Panagariya on India's "Arrested Development".

Issues include:
  • Why is growth not translating through to poverty reduction?
  • Is growth doing too much damage to the environment?
  • What is the politics behind those features of growth?
  • What to do to change those trends?
  • What would the trade-offs be?
The panel includes Isher Judge Ahluwalia, Biraj Patnaik and Santhosh Mathew, chaired by Rajesh Tandon, President of PRIA and Trustee of IDS.

The event is on November 27 at the Habitat Centre.

If you are interested in attending, please contact Vanessa Borrino (v.borrino@ids.ac.uk) to check on availability.

See you there!

07 November 2013

Reaction from Ireland to the Lancet Series and to HANCI

Yesterday I was in Dublin at Trinity College presenting on the Hunger and Nutrition Index (HANCI) at a morning symposium jointly arranged by Concern, Trinity, Irish Aid and the Development Studies Association of Ireland.

Bob Black started the morning session with an overview of the Lancet series on nutrition and then I continued with HANCI.

One of the nice things about the way it was organised was the ample time for discussants and questions from the audience.

There were some good questions, here are some I noted down:

On the Lancet Series:
  •        The small for gestational age data are new and important—essentially one fifth to one quarter of all children are born stunted—how do we prevent this? We don’t know enough
  •        Is the cognitive damage really irreversible after 1000 days?  Well, it is irreversible in the sense that the early cognitive loss cannot fully be made up even if there is a concerted effort to do so--although this does not mean that learning does not happen throughout childhood, just that it is starting from a lower base than it has to.
  •        Are the messages sharp enough coming out of paper 4 (enabling environment)?. What, for example, would you invest in to get that environment? Capacity, new forms of resource mobilisation, accountability mechanisms, intersectoral coordination, and more real time data on nutrition outcomes and programme coverage
  •        What do you invest in first in a given context—I noted the idea that investing in nutrition is more like constructing a barrel with vertical planks—the barrel only holds as much water as the shortest plank.  But we in nutrition tend to think of the barrel as being built with horizontal planks—where every new investment must increase the capacity of the barrel and the order of the planks does not matter
  •        What about capacity—what do we know about the payoffs to investments in different types (e.g. the number, quality and presence in post of front line workers)? ‘Not much’ is the answer—research funders and researchers tragically do not find this a sexy topic.  
  •        Does the term enabling environment imply a roll back of the state?  Not at all—it just means the state cannot do it all, but what it can do can make a huge difference to the motivations and incentives of everyone else
  •        Should the series have done more on HIV/AIDS? Probably yes, because of the important interactions of food, nutrition and HIV/AIDS.  One important point that Bob Black made—the scale up of anti retroviral drugs has put paid to the myth that scaling up nutrition, a less complex set of interventions, is too difficult
  •        The series said a lot on what to do but less on how to do it.  I think this is OK personally, as much of the how is context specific. I would like to see a Lancet series on the 7-8 highest burden countries, where all the evidence on that country is brought together and reconciled—the current Lancet series, for all its strengths, does tend to decontextualize nutrition actions.

      On HANCI (the Hunger and Nutrition Commitment Index) there was a lot of positive feedback and some tough questions
  •        How do you deal with the quality of policies and spending?
  •        How do you deal with the fact that some of the data are 18 months out of date?
  •        What has been the traction at the country level?
  •        Isn’t the real value in countries developing this themselves and making it their own?
  •        How will you combine HANCI with other indicators such as Global Hunger Index?
  •        We presented a list of indicators that we did NOT include in HANCI and a couple we had concluded were too indirect were challenged: why not education spending (empowerment of women) and why not community health worker coverage?  We will look again at these for the next version.
  •        How will you evaluate whether HANCI contributes to action to reduce malnutrition and hunger?
  •        What does it mean if the HANCI score is different from one’s own perception of how well the country is doing? Well, you may be wrong, HANCI may be wrong or both may be wrong—but the point is it gets you to challenge your priors and have a fresh look.

All good questions and I do not have an immediate answer to many but these are questions we will take on in the next round of HANCI published in 2014. 

It was interesting and encouraging to talk to the Irish government colleagues who were saying what can we do in Ireland to improve our ranking (already a good 5 out of 23).  And we were told that HANCI has provided a useful starting point in conversations between government and civil society on the nutrition landscape in Zambia and Tanzania.  Clearly we have to do a better job of capturing these uses.

The quality of the debate in the Trinity College audience was very high indeed.  Ireland is a relatively small country but it is punching well above its weight in terms of fighting malnutrition and hunger. It is a real leader and long may that continue. 

02 November 2013

In Praise of Arne Oshaug: Gentleman, Hell-Raiser, Peacemaker and Scholar of Nutrition

I was really pleased to be able to contribute to a seminar held yesterday in honour of Professor Arne Oshaug of the University College of Life Sciences in Oslo.  (Arne is retiring his post, though I imagine he will not notice.)

I first met Arne at a UN Standing Committee on Nutrition (SCN) meeting in the mid-1990s.  At that time the SCN was full of squabbling UN agencies, and Arne, representing the Norwegian Government at these meetings, often seemed like the only grown up in the room.   

He has a calmness about him that cannot mask his burning desire to see malnutrition decreased. He was always calling the UN agencies on their often petty squabbles, even though he risked being shunned by them.

Arne has an interesting career—from pantry boy in the merchant navy, to highly skilled cook in a top rated hotel to nutrition researcher to a top civil servant in the Ministry of Agriculture to Professor of Public Nutrition (public nutrition says we want to reduce malnutrition and we are going to use all policy mechanisms available, whichever sector they are found in—an innovative programme that Arne helped to develop in the teeth of much opposition). 

As a nutritionist he has worked in some fascinating contexts.  For example, he worked on the oil rigs in the North Sea, trying to figure out how oil rig workers could be enticed to eat healthier food.  The companies that ran the rigs used copious food to keep their workers happy--unfortunately the all you can eat approach combined with high fat and high sugar foods meant that the oil companies were becoming known as the heart attack kings.  Arne and colleagues helped introduce healthier foods and reduce the fat and sugar in the unhealthier foods. 

When he was at IFPRI with me as a Visiting Fellow I gave him the job of getting a group of young and bright but fractious researchers to work together better on developing a new research agenda. Instead of knocking heads together he won them over with his broad and deep understanding of nutrition, the wisdom that his life experiences had given him and his good humour.

His intellectual achievements are many, but his biggest legacy will be his focus on human rights as they apply to food and nutrition security.  When I met him it took me a while to get the human right angle on food and nutrition, but through writing a paper with him for Food Policy on “How does a human rights perspective help shape the food and nutrition policy agenda?” I realised that a rights focus helped zero in on the claimants capacity to claim rights and the duty bearers capacity to deliver rights. 

My talk at the seminar in honour of him was on my familiar themes: accountability, commitment, responsiveness, capacity and financial resources—and only in preparing for the talk did it dawn on me how much that this agenda has been affected by the rights focus and, in turn, how much Arne’s work has influenced my own.  

Arne Oshaug: a gentleman, hell-raiser, peacemaker and scholar of nutrition.  An unsung hero, and way ahead of his time.