Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The smell of Africa

It is not a romantic smell. It is not the smell of free people, living as they would choose. Rather, it is the smell of people who labour, strain, and toil for every drop of sustenance their body receives from the earth. It is the smell of of people who have been marginalised and disempowered and forgotten. It is the smell of of people without a voice in a world where only the loud are fed. It is the smell of people who are alive only because they are cunning, ingenious, and endlessly resourceful. In theory they are "peasants".  In practice they are brilliantly versed in the skill of surviving.

Absolutely brilliant. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

From Science to Impact

Most scientists, well at least senior scientists, need to report on progress to funders and policy makers reliant or interested on the outcome of their research.  Yesterday I was invited to attend such a meeting, not to report, but to listen and observe. Apart from really interesting presentations and ground-breaking research, the eternal struggle on how to clearly speak to policy and decision makers on matters of science was clearly evident.

I made a few notes:

  • Present in a nutshell the implications of research for policy
  • Explain what and why some modelling, calculations have been done. Guide policy makers through the logic. Do not baffle them with complicated statistics
  • Do not present all of the work you have done. Many times it will help much more to just say that your peers have endorsed you.
  • Focus on the impact of your work on people and society, not on scientific details
  • Always ask ‘So what?’
  • Do not speak about what you think is interesting, but speak about things that are important to decision making
  • Do not duplicate other work when you do not have to! Use existing data, analysis etc. and invest in connecting the dots.
  • Design and optimise modes of communication. Beware of death by ppt... (Despite the fact that everyone knows the term, my perception is that it is getting worse)
  • Be clear on the investment cost of projects/programme in relation to societal benefits. Do not emphasise costs only.
  • Generalise from specific studies in a responsible way. Neither jump to conclusions, nor be willing to take some risk. An educated expert opinion is still much better then an uneducated guess.

This is just a rough, personal account. There are many more excellent resources on how to improve the science-policy interface.   I recommend Prof Pielke's book The Honest Broker as a good place to start.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Social networking and happiness

From the BMJ a study on happiness within social networks:

Happy people tend to be located in the centre of their local social networks and in large clusters of happy people.  

Happiness... is also a property of groups of people.

...people are embedded in social networks and the health and wellbeing of one person affects the health and wellbeing of others.

Social networking as a public health focus area?

Read the full study.

Friday, December 5, 2008

The Rising Cost of Deteriorating Water Quality

Everything is not well in South Africa's Waterland.  Sewerage, industrial effluents and acids are contaminating South Africa's scarce water resources. Some speak of a water crises

Water in South Africa belongs to the state (National Water Act). The question that does arise is whether the state are able to manage and protect this water effectively. There is mounting evidence that this is not the case. Many water resources are effectively treated as common property and without clear and binding institutional arrangements are overexploited as repositories of waste. Unregulated markets will generally produce more then the desired amount of pollution, externalising these costs onto the environment and ultimately on human beings and the environment dependent on clean water.

A honest review of government failure is long overdue. It is also time to bring the polluters to book and time for developing open-minded approaches to the pricing of water pollution. Gradual and well-designed prices on the scarcity of natural resources send more correct signals to market players on the cost of pollution, and may help to avoid sudden crises.  When water quality approaches critical levels, longer delays will only mean rising costs of inaction.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Should business be involved in poverty alleviation?

In a world of persistent poverty and growing inequality the pressure to respond will continue to increase. This is not only the case for governments, but increasingly one for larger businesses who start realising that it makes little sense to operate in failed societies. 

An article from Sustainability Investment News on the basis of a new WBCSD report, highlights the perceived role of business in poverty alleviation: 

Almost half of the world’s population survives on the equivalent of less than $2 a day. And the gap between rich and poor countries continues to widen; the richest 20% of the world’s population control three-quarters of the world’s wealth, while the poorest 20% control just 2%. 

World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), a global association of 200 companies dealing exclusively with business and sustainable development, has produced a report that sees in such dire statistics an opportunity to do business in new ways. The report, developed by the WBCSD Development Focus Area and entitled "Doing Business with the World--The New Role of Corporate Leadership in Global Development", finds that "companies can contribute to global sustainable development through their core businesses in a way that is profitable for the companies and good for development." 

The key to alleviation of poverty is the creation of wealth, the report concludes, and business is a necessary part of the equation. By engaging with low-income segments of developing countries through direct employment and sourcing from low-income suppliers, companies can tap into a market that despite its poverty represents an estimated collective purchasing power of $5 trillion. 

It is a good thing that big business is coming on board in addressing the world's biggest problems.  Social responsibility is not something only for governments, NGOs and philanthropists.

Expect some interesting developments in shaping this suggested partnership between governments, NGOs and business.

Hope that the really poor are not left out in the action.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Poverty and violence

From VoxEU.org - a new study on poverty and violence in Africa:

This column suggests that in Africa an income drop of 5%—a large but altogether common deterioration in economic conditions—increases the risk of civil conflict in the following year to nearly 30%. This suggests that aid agencies could help prevent war by targeting short-term emergency aid towards countries hard-hit by adverse commodity price movements or weather shocks.
If we believe that a direct link connects poverty and violence, then when failing rains create economic hardship, war should follow. In this case, we can actually figure out whether poverty caused violence by isolating rainfall’s effects. Drought and the resulting economic hardship turn out to matter a lot for understanding conflict in Africa. In work with co-authors Shanker Satyanath and Ernest Sergenti of NYU, we find that a 1% decline in national GDP increases the likelihood of civil conflict by about 2 percentage points. So an income drop of 5%—a large but altogether common deterioration in economic conditions, especially when the rains fail—increases the risk of civil conflict in the following year to nearly 30%, up from an already-high average probability of conflict in Africa of around 20% in normal rainfall years. So we find that short-term shocks to income – exactly the type that Djankov and Reynal-Querol purport to study – do trigger violent conflict on the world’s war-prone continent.

This is an interesting observation. It also begs the next question how aid organisations, governments and society as a whole can effectively react to such shocks. Apart from preventing those few that can be controlled, it is more a matter of keeping "the fingers on the pulse" and to have sensitive systems in place that can "hear the baby cry". That means a lot of flexibility and adaptability.

Rural poverty does not exclude sensitivity to relative standing

A recent EfD study in rural China pointed out that Chinese rural farmers do care about relative income. This concern for relative standing, according to the authors,  is similar to comparable studies in developed countries.  In China, however, these results need to be interpreted within the context of a country rapidly becoming more unequal. It may also help explain peasant discontent and incidents of rural protest and unrest.

See also earlier related posts Globalisation and Inequality and Does Inequality lead to Violence?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Turton: Petition against assault on academic freedom

Following the highly controversial suspension of Dr Tony Turton from the CSIR, please stand up for academic freedom and sign this petition.

For background on the Turton case read Environment News, The Times, Business Day and Engineering News.

What if AIDS was treated with ARVs?

Bottom-line: 330 000 lives could have been saved.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Real world impact of ecosystem valuation

Many environmental economists and ecologists seem to find common ground in the language of valuing "ecosystem goods and services". Since the Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, numerous reports have been produced on the topic.  An increasingly important question that is being asked is whether this is all worth the effort.  Does it really make such a difference to provide an economic argument for the conservation and restoration of ecosystems? Would it not be better to just frame an ecological or biodiversity argument?  These questions are very relevant as a typical EGS valuation study does take a lot of effort, discipline and can be quite costly.

A new report 'Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Strategic Environmental Assessment. Lessons from Influential Case Studies' released by the Netherlands Commission on Environmental Assessment provides evidence that results are indeed emerging on a policy level.  

The main messages are as follows:
1. Recognising ecosystems services enhances transparent and engaged decision making
2. Insights in the distribution of ecosystem service benefits highlights poverty and equity issues
3. Valuation of ecosystem services directly facilitates sustainability

4. SEA and planning processes are enhanced by the identification and quantification of ecosystem services

5.  Valuation of ecosystem services is more influential with decision makers 

6.  Methodological complexities do not necessarily hinder influential decision making 

7.  SEA provides a platform to put valuation results in a societal context 

In a nutshell, the value of such a economic valuation of EGS approach is that all beneficiaries are identified and included as stakeholders, all values are taken into account and the distribution of such value can be explicitly included, ecosystems are immediately embedded in socio-economic realities and development needs of the area/city/region/country and the economic value of nature's services communicates far easier to policy makers concerned with poverty and development then biodiversity concepts on its own. 

Ecosystems have a value. Proper investment in such ecosystems improves human well-being and can save households, firms, farmers and authorities a lot of money. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Steady increase in greenhouse gases

Despite Kyoto and much talk about climate change, greenhouse gases of 40 industrialised nations are on the increase (again). 

Greenhouse gas emissions of 40 industrialized countries rose by 2.3 per cent between 2000 and 2006, while still about 5 per cent below the 1990 level, according to United Nations figures released today, two weeks before a major review conference on the issue.
For the smaller group of industrialized countries that ratified the 1997 Kyoto Protocol setting reduction targets, emissions in 2006 were about 17 per cent below the Protocol’s 1990 base line, but they still grew after 2000. The pre-2000 decrease stemmed from the economic decline of transition countries in Eastern and Central Europe in the 1990s.

Africa is expected to be particularly vulnerable to climatic variability. For Africans this is not good news.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Open access Journal on Economics

Economics is a pathbreaking journal that captures the advantages of some highly successful natural science journals. It adopts an open source approach to publication, viewing research as a cooperative enterprise between authors, editors, referees, and readers.

Economics aims to cover all the main areas of economics. This is not a journal for a select field of economics.  For example, one environmental economic article caught my eye:
The Social Cost of Carbon by Prof Richard Tol

Click here to become a registered reader.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Poverty in sub-Saharan Africa: Hydrocarbons to the rescue?

Sub-saharan Africa is going through a hydrocarbon boom. Will this help alleviate poverty? The potential is there, but do not expect miracles without open and transparent governments.


Could revenues in oil- and gas-rich sub-Saharan African countries 

alleviate energy poverty? 

n Oil and gas exports in the top-ten producing sub-Saharan African countries are set 

to grow steadily to 2030, providing the means for alleviating poverty and expanding 

energy access. In the Reference Scenario, in which no change in government policies is 

assumed, their oil exports rise from 5.1 mb/d in aggregate in 2007 to 6.4 mb/d in 2030. Gas 

exports, largely as liquefied natural gas (LNG), increase from 21.6 bcm in 2006 to 130 bcm 

in 2030. These projections hinge on a reduction in gas flaring, adequate investment and 

avoidance of disruption to supplies through civil unrest. The ten countries flared 40 bcm 

in 2005 — almost three times the entire region’s gas consumption. These countries could 

make direct use of their gas resources by using currently flared gas for power generation 

or distributing it in cities. The liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) extracted from natural gas or 

produced in refineries can provide a low-cost source of supply for distribution networks. 

n Less than a third of households in the majority of oil- and gas-rich countries have access 

to electricity or to clean fuels for cooking, like LPG, kerosene, biogas and ethanol 

gelfuel. About 150 000 people, mainly women and children, die prematurely each year in 

these countries because of indoor air pollution from burning traditional fuels – essentially 

fuelwood and charcoal – for cooking in inefficient stoves or open fires. In the absence of new 

policy initiatives, the number of people living without electricity and relying on fuelwood 

and charcoal for cooking rises over the Outlook period, as the population grows. 

n Government revenues from oil and gas are set to rise strongly, giving these countries 

the means to speed up economic and social development and alleviate poverty. The 

government take in the top ten oil- and gas-producing countries is projected to rise from 

some $80 billion in 2006 to about $250 billion in 2030. Nigeria and Angola account for 86% 

of the $4.1 trillion cumulative revenues of all ten countries over 2006-2030. All these 

countries desperately need sustained and sustainable economic development. Modern 

energy services are a crucial prerequisite, bringing major benefits to public health, social 

welfare and economic productivity. In most of the countries, improving energy access 

will entail fundamental political, institutional and legislative reform, as well as efforts 

to strengthen the capability of regional and local authorities to implement programmes 

and to expand access to credit. 

n The upfront cost of expanding access to modern energy is small relative to the wealth 

that these countries’ hydrocarbon resources will generate. An estimated $18 billion is 

needed to achieve universal access to electricity and to LPG cooking stoves and cylinders 

– a mere 0.4% of the projected cumulative government revenues from oil and gas export 

revenues in 2007-2030. The cost relative to the government take in Equatorial Guinea, 

Angola and Gabon is only 0.1%. 

n Sub-Saharan Africa’s hydrocarbon-resource wealth will lead to economic development 

only if governments manage wisely and honestly the development of the sector 

and the revenues that accrue. An improvement in the efficiency and transparency of 

revenue allocation and the accountability of governments in the use of public funds 

would improve the likelihood that oil and gas revenues are actually used to alleviate 

poverty generally and energy poverty specifically.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Night Time Light as proxy poverty indicator

Tired of breaking your head on how to construct comparable measures of poverty? Remotely sensed data on artificial night time light may be a good proxy.  From a study published by Noor et al in in Population Health Metrics: 

Population health is linked closely to poverty. To assess the effectiveness of health interventions it is critical to monitor the spatial and temporal changes in the health indicators of populations and outcomes across varying levels of poverty. Existing measures of poverty based on income, consumption or assets are difficult to compare across geographic settings and are expensive to construct. Remotely sensed data on artificial night time lights (NTL) have been shown to correlate with gross domestic product in developed countries.

Notice any differences?

Obama's Green Revolution?

From WSJ, Environmental Capital:

In a video message prepared for a global-warming summit in California, Mr. Obama seems to say that battling climate change will be in the leadoff slot, with the clean-energy program batting cleanup (hat tip):

My presidency will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process. That will start with a federal cap-and-trade system. We’ll establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020, and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050. Further, we’ll invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private-sector efforts to build a clean-energy future.

If this is indeed the case it will send a strong signal to take carbon constraints seriously.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

On resilience and the financial crises

The Stockholm Resilience Centre reports on 'Buzz' Holling's theory of (ecological) resilience and the importance for understanding the current financial crises:

Politicians and policy-makers all over the world struggle to stabilize the global financial system. But perhaps regulations and command-and-control won´t do much good. Instead, governments should take a closer look at the research on resilience - the capacity of an eco-system to cope with shock and then rebuild and renew itself. For more see here

Herman Daly, renowned ecological economist earlier had this to say on the crises:

The current financial debacle is really not a “liquidity” crisis as it is often euphemistically called. It is a crisis of overgrowth of financial assets relative to growth of real wealth—pretty much the opposite of too little liquidity. Financial assets have grown by a large multiple of the real economy—paper exchanging for paper is now 20 times greater than exchanges of paper for real commodities. It should be no surprise that the relative value of the vastly more abundant financial assets has fallen in terms of real assets. 

Seems like Holling and Daly can have a creative chat on finding a balance between regulations, incentives and management designed to improve the overall system and interventions to increase the systems' overall ability to cope with shocks.

For more on Daly's response see here.
For Holling's own reflections on his work see here.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Losing nature's value

From Resilience Science

At the IUCN meeting in Barcelona, the BBC interviews Pavan Sukhdev leader of the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity an EU project intending to provide an economic assessment of global ecosystem governance in much the same way that the Stern review did for climate governance:

The global economy is losing more money from the disappearance of forests than through the current banking crisis, according to an EU-commissioned study.

…The figure comes from adding the value of the various services that forests perform, such as providing clean water and absorbing carbon dioxide.

…Speaking to BBC News on the fringes of the congress, study leader Pavan Sukhdev emphasised that the cost of natural decline dwarfs losses on the financial markets.

“It’s not only greater but it’s also continuous, it’s been happening every year, year after year,” he told BBC News.

“So whereas Wall Street by various calculations has to date lost, within the financial sector, $1-$1.5 trillion, the reality is that at today’s rate we are losing natural capital at least between $2-$5 trillion every year.”

…The first phase concluded in May when the team released its finding that forest decline could be costing about 7% of global GDP. The second phase will expand the scope to other natural systems.

See interim report from The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Project project

Photo: IISD

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sustainable forestry vs illegal logging

Demand for resources poses opportunities for sustainable resource management. From Environmental News Network:

African nations could turn the demand for their natural resources currently driving deforestation and other destruction into a force for higher returns from sustainable development, WWF has said today.
“Certified, sustainable forestry yields far better returns for companies, communities and Congo basin countries than illegal logging ever will,” said Andre Kamdem, Head of the WWF Green Heart of Africa Initiative.
“Our challenge is to put the machinery in place to turn from plunder to preservation of resources and it is in the interests of the world to assist the nations of the green heart of Africa to do this.

From plunder to preservation is hard work. It does suggest some kind of mutual accepted contract (uphold by the rule of law) and an alternative or supportive finance framework. And yes, some respectful clients.

Read more at illegal-logging.info 

Monday, October 27, 2008

Air travel to Africa and climate change

The issue of carbon emissions caused by air travel is becoming an increasingly heated debate. Soon regulating airline emissions could become an integral part of the UK climate change bill.

This raises the question of what would happen in poorer countries of Africa (and elsewhere) which rely on tourism for much-needed international revenue and regard tourism as important part of their development strategy, if tourists would stop coming due to changes in air travel regulations. One helpful suggestion for tourists is given on the topic by an Africa specialist travel agency Rainbow Tours, which forms part of the Ethical Tour Operators Group in the UK:

"It is estimated that one new job is created by every eight tourists, and one job supports up to twenty people. In modern times, flying is an essential part of any trip to Africa, and if people were to stop visiting Africa because of a desire to cut down on flying, the effect on communities would be catastrophic. In many areas, tourism offers the only chance of employment and hope for the future.

Maybe a solution is to travel less and for longer. Make one longer visit, instead of two. We don’t offer long-weekends in Zanzibar, or in Cape Town. Cut out the flights you can afford to go without – to Edinburgh or Paris – and travel by train. Cut out the short-break in Barcelona, turn down the central heating and wear a jumper, but please don’t stop visiting Africa. They need you there."

However, it is clear that this issue also needs to be tackled at an international level far beyond the individual traveler´s decision-making , taking into account the relative importance of tourism for development in a tourist host region and even the much lower average carbon emission levels of the poorer host country rather than only the levels of the country of origin of the tourists.

H/T: Ron Mader - planeta.com, Green Travel Network

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kenya: Pervasive Poverty and Rising Inequality

From a draft Poverty and Inequality Assessment on Kenya released by the World Bank:

We confirm that there has been some improvement in poverty overall since 1997, but poverty is still very pervasive, especially in rural areas.  Inequality is large and appears to have risen over time.  The  main correlates of poverty resonate with those found in earlier studies – including family size, lack of education and frequency of shocks.    

Image: Slums in Nairobi 
Image credit: Crispin Hughes/Panos, as posted on Environmental Health Perspectives

Economy and the earth

The New Scientist released a special report on how the economy is killing the earth:

THE graphs climbing across these pages (see graph, right, or explore in more detail) are a stark reminder of the crisis facing our planet. Consumption of resources is rising rapidly, biodiversity is plummeting and just about every measure shows humans affecting Earth on a vast scale. Most of us accept the need for a more sustainable way to live, by reducing carbon emissions, developing renewable technology and increasing energy efficiency.

But are these efforts to save the planet doomed? A growing band of experts are looking at figures like these and arguing that personal carbon virtue and collective environmentalism are futile as long as our economic system is built on the assumption of growth. The science tells us that if we are serious about saving Earth, we must reshape our economy.

This, of course, is economic heresy. Growth to most economists is as essential as the air we breathe: it is, they claim, the only force capable of lifting the poor out of poverty, feeding the world's growing population, meeting the costs of rising public spending and stimulating technological development - not to mention funding increasingly expensive lifestyles. They see no limits to that growth, ever.

For a full introduction and some free papers read here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The role of carbon capture and storage (CCS)

An argument for expansion of coal fired power stations often comes with a promise of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, but it is often argued that these technologies are unproven.  A new working paper from DIW Berlin discusses the possibilities of CCS and argues that CCS combined with IGCC could be economically viable at a CO2 price in the range of Euro 30-50/t. CCS for conventional hard coal plants would increase the price of electricity by 3-4 cents (EUR)/Kwh (At an exchange rate of R10 for 1 Euro that is in the range of 30-40c/Kwh). 

The paper highlights that full scale commercialisation of CCS is not expected before 2025-2040. In fact this would also make little economic sense given much cheaper greenhouse gas mitigation options available (see earlier post on Global cost of carbon mitigation).

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

From responsible and sustainable tourism to sports tourism

Lesotho Rondavel
Looking further into the topic of tourism and development in Africa, Kurt Ackermann looks at some interesting ideas on how to move towards being responsible and sustainable in tourism saying:

"Being green and responsible is good for business, but getting there - and being able to prove it - can be daunting."

Sports tourism - especially in the form of major events - can be another interesting way that tourism can benefit a national economy, but there are negative environmental externalities. How can we deal with them for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa? How about with a "Green Goal" (as FIFA started promoting in Germany 2006)?

"Topics included Green Goal principles, stadium greening, biodiversity, landscaping and green procurement, green ratings for the hospitality industry, carbon offset, integrated waste management, the Green Point Park and communication."

Photo: Kurt Ackermann from the Ecotourism Africa flickr group
H/T: Afrikatourism

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Public perceptions on nuclear power

It is no secret that Eskom intends expanding nuclear capacity in South Africa (see here), but what do people think about nuclear nowadays?

A recent poll (focussed on Americans though) suggests that support for building nuclear power plants is very divided, but that almost three-quarters are concerned with radioactive waste:

A new Harris Poll finds that 49 percent of Americans are in support of building more nuclear power plants as opposed to 47 percent in 1979 – virtually unchanged. As both U.S. presidential candidates have taken a stance on this issue, public support and/or opposition will be critical to the future of nuclear power in America. While a third of Americans are still opposed to new nuclear plant construction, this opposition has decreased by 13 percent (from 45 percent to 32 percent) since April 1979 just after the accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant on March 28, 1979. Prior to that incident, a series of Harris Polls found that substantial majorities of American adults were in favor of building new nuclear power plants.
Some of the key findings of this new Harris Poll are:

A 49 percent to 32 percent plurality of adults favor building new nuclear power plants, with 23 percent strongly favoring them and 16 percent strongly opposing them.
A 72 percent majority of adults see the disposal of radioactive waste as a major problem. Smaller majorities see the escape of radioactive materials affect people’s health (56%) and in the atmosphere (51%) as major problems.
Overall, however, substantial majorities now (67%) as in 1979 (also 67%) believe that nuclear power plants that produce electricity are safe.

One interesting, possibly surprising, finding is that support for building new nuclear power plants increases with age. Majorities of the two oldest generations, 63 percent to 24 percent of "Matures" (aged 63 and over) and 52 percent to 31 percent of Baby Boomers (aged 44 to 62) support building new nuclear power plants, Only 35 percent of Echo Boomers (aged 18 to 31) and 47 percent of Generation X (aged 28-43) do so. Why is this surprising? Because Matures and Baby Boomers were aged 14 or older in 1979 and are presumably more likely to remember Three Mile Island.

Public perception is an important issue (read all about South Africa's own particular issues) but for now it seems as if the current financial and political instability is a greater immediate obstacle to Eskom's planned nuclear expansion programme.  

Monday, October 6, 2008

Shame on us

UNICEF released The State of the World's Children 2008.  

Overall much progress has been made with reducing infant mortality over the last few decades. Even in sub-Saharan Africa, with persistently high infant mortality rates some progress has been made. Painfully, South Africa is one of the few countries where things got worse between 1990 and 2006. 

South Africa was ranked 55th worse out of 189 countries on the under 5 mortality rate, a critical indicator of the well-being of children.  69 out of every 1000 children under 5 will probably die in South Africa-  much more then the 46 in Iraq (yes, I have double-checked) or the 22 in Occupied Palestinian Territory.  

What is worse is that South Africa slipped from a still unacceptably high probability of 60 out of every 1000 children in 1990, and what is worst of all is that much of this could have been prevented, especially given South Africa's relative high levels of wealth. See earlier post: Shocking statistics on maternal, newborn and child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa

There is something terribly missing in the South African recipe.  To care.  

Here's a simple way to start: value and reward all of those who are caretakers.

Image: WHO

Should water be priced according to its market value?

The Economist hosts a debate with the following proposition: "Water as a scarce resource should be priced according to its market value". Go and join a lively debate!

This was my comment:

Freshwater is becoming increasingly scarce. An important benefit of responding to this increasing scarcity with flexible water tariffs is that consumers can respond in a manner of their choice - paying the increased amount, installing water saving technology, reducing their use or a combination of several response options. Too low water tariffs also affects quality of service and it is usually the poor who suffer the most. 

Being flexible and having options in a complex world of wet and dry cycles is a huge benefit. Inflexible water use restrictions create huge losses of welfare and are often implemented too late and after periods of a false security created by low water tariffs. 

It does not end here though. Everyone on earth needs water to live. Governments need to step in to ensure that everyone has access to sufficient water for his/her basic needs. The South African Water Act for example clearly makes this distinction and sees no conflict between the provision of water for basic human needs and the clear need for economically efficient allocation of a scarce resource for productive and consumptive purposes. 

I have voted pro, but under the proviso that the basic needs of all people (and the functioning of the environment) is taken care of.

From inclusive growth to inclusive discussion.

The Commission on Growth and Development started a new weblog:

The Growth Blog is a forum for you - the policy maker, the academic, the student, and the interested citizen of the world - to agree, disagree, or simply to engage current practitioners on policies and issues critical to development. This platform was inspired by the series of meetings that the Commission on Growth and Development held around the world over the course of the last two years. Of the many lessons that emerged in the deliberations, the one that stands out is that inclusive growth requires inclusive thinking, and inclusive discussion. 

See here for an earlier post on the Commissions refreshing approach to growth, poverty and the environment.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Best books on Africa

I searched for the best reads on Africa. 

Here are the recommendations from: 
Amazon UK

As posted on About.com, the 97 authors on the full list of  best 100 creative books are associated with the following countries: Algeria (3), Angola (3), Benin (1), Burkina Faso (1), Cameroon (2), Cape Verde (1), Congo (1), Cote d'Ivoire (3), Democratic Republic of Congo (2), Egypt (6), Ghana (7), Guinea (3), Guinea-Bissau (1), Kenya (3), Lesotho (1), Mali (1), Morocco (2), Mozambique (4), Nigeria (10), Senegal (10), Sierra Leone (1), Somalia (1), South Africa (19), Sudan (1), Tanzania (1), Tunisia (1), Uganda (3), Zimbabwe (5).

Interestingly most authors are from South Africa, Nigeria and Senegal: