Using markets and donor support to mitigate the economic effects of coronavirus in African countries

ETA: a shortened version of this post has been published at African Arguments.

One truism about the coronavirus pandemic is that it is amplifying pre-existing vulnerabilities and inequalities.  This comes through particularly clearly in discussions about how African countries should respond to the pandemic. Rich countries have a range of options for containing the virus and mitigating its economic impacts but these solutions often require money or public health capacity which African countries lacked even before the pandemic.

This doesn’t mean that there is nothing to be done, however.  There’s been an outpouring of research on approaches to pandemic control and economic relief which are tailored to African contexts.  In particular, it may be possible to mitigate the economic impacts of the crisis through a mixture of targeted investments in public markets and public transport, and donor-funded cash transfer programs.  

How are rich countries responding to the pandemic?

To generalize a bit, rich countries have considered four different responses to the pandemic.  Most of them are clustering around approaches 3 or 4 at this point, which contain the virus and minimize economic disruption, but require lots of spending and strong public health capacity.

  1. Uncontrolled spread: Letting the pandemic spread mostly unchecked in order to rapidly build immunity in the population. This leads to many avoidable deaths, completely overwhelms the healthcare system, and causes a major economic crash, so that’s clearly a bad idea.  The UK briefly considered this before changing their tune.
  2. Lockdown without income replacement: putting the country on lockdown in order to avoid the spread of the virus, without compensating people for lost income.  This leads to higher rates of infection because many people must violate lockdown to continue working and feeding their families, and leads to an economic contraction as many others lose their jobs.  The US is only replacing a fraction of people’s lost incomes with a one-time $1200 check, so it’s a good example of this approach.
  3. Lockdown with income replacement: self-explanatory.  There are a variety of ways to replace lost incomes, from paying companies to keep their workers on board (like Denmark) to offering direct cash transfers to people who’ve lost their jobs (like Canada).  This approach slows the spread of the virus while preserving people’s ability to access the goods and services they need to stay healthy.  However, it’s also extremely expensive.
  4. Testing and containment: Testing enormous numbers of people in order to contain infections before they spread, and letting people who are not infected continue to work and travel as usual.  This is the Taiwan-Singapore approach, and it’s been successful at constraining the spread of the virus while minimizing economic disruption.  However, it relies on the existence of strong public health systems and access to hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests.

What are the options for African countries?

Which of these approaches might be useful for African countries? Approach 1, uncontrolled spread, is inherently a bad idea, and many governments are already taking steps to avoid this.  South Africa and Uganda are on national lockdown already, Kenya is encouraging cashless transactions, Ghana is shutting down markets to fumigate them, and so forth.  We can also rule out approach 4, testing and containment, as most countries don’t have the extensive public health infrastructure needed to do this.

This leaves us with approaches 2 and 3, lockdowns without or with income replacement.  Right now, many African countries are defaulting to approach 2, as they’re cutting back on economic activity without replacing lost incomes.  This is clearly not sustainable. Many people are subsistence farmers who depend on markets to access inputs like seeds and fertilizer, or live in poor urban neighborhoods without regular access to water and food even at the best of times. Some governments are already using violence to try to enforce these unpopular lockdowns.  We can’t lose sight of the fact that hunger and violence are also threats to public health.

The best remaining option is approach 3, lockdown with income replacement.  Most African governments can’t afford to massively scale up their welfare systems in a short time.  But with a combination of donor support and targeted interventions to keep markets open while protecting vulnerable people, it may be possible to keep people from going hungry while also lowering coronavirus risk.

Protecting people’s incomes

Let’s start with options to keep people’s incomes stable, as it’s going to be impossible to promote any sort of social distancing if people can’t feed themselves while doing so.  The two options here are promoting a baseline level of regular economic activity, and giving people direct transfers of cash or food.

One option for promoting regular economic activity in a safe way is reconfiguring the physical spaces of retail markets so that people can continue to buy and sell with greater social distance.  This includes expanding the footprint of markets to allow for proper social distancing, installing handwashing facilities, and training retailers in safe product handling practices.  It may also be possible to do staggered lockdowns in various neighborhoods in order to keep markets open while controlling the total number of people entering at any given time.  Public transport remains a point of vulnerability, as many people have no alternative for getting around besides crowded mini-buses or motorcycle taxis, but it may be possible to distribute masks and hand sanitizer at bus stops or via transport unions to lower the risk of transmission.

Even if a baseline amount of economic activity can be safely maintained, many African citizens are still going to lose their livelihoods as demand for things like tourism and agricultural exports drops.  There’s a clear need for direct income replacement from the government. Since most people work in the informal sector, a Denmark-style approach to paying employers to keep their employees on isn’t feasible.  Instead, the best solution is to provide cash transfers directly to individuals.  (If agricultural markets begin breaking down, in-kind transfers of food may also be useful, but these are more difficult to organize than cash transfers, so they shouldn’t be the first step.)

The good news is that almost all African countries have existing social protection programs which offer cash transfers to poor citizens.  These programs do tend to have very limited reach, supporting only small percentages of the poor, but at least the infrastructure exists.  There are also cash transfers run through humanitarian aid organizations and through NGOs like GiveDirectly.  As of March 27, only a few African governments had announced plans to scale up their social protection programs.  However, most countries are early enough in the progression of their pandemics to be able to do this before infections peak.

African governments and aid donors should be immediately focused on scaling up the infrastructure for universal cash transfers.  Many African governments can’t unilaterally afford a huge increase in welfare expenses, and will face falling tax revenues during the period of the pandemic, so this is the ideal time for the major donors to step in and support them — ideally with grants rather than loans.  Time is really of the essence here.  Food prices have already begun rising, and will only continue to do so as imports get delayed or shut down, and domestic food supply is threatened by market failures.  Targeting cash transfers to the poorest also takes time, and in this case many people who were not previously extremely poor are about to lose their incomes, so targeting doesn’t really make sense from an ethical perspective either.

Protecting people’s health

But what about public health in all of this?  If markets and transport remain open, even with social distancing measures in place, there’s clearly still a risk of coronavirus transmission.  Many African countries have only a few dozen ICU beds for millions of citizens, and it’s going to be difficult to scale that up rapidly, given that every single country around the world is trying to procure additional medical equipment on short notice via already-stretched supply chains.  The Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention appear to be doing as much as they can to help countries acquire coronavirus tests and protective equipment for healthcare workers, but they can’t compensate for years of low investment in health systems overnight.

A research group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has proposed that public health resources in low income countries should be focused on protecting the most vulnerable populations, rather than trying to stop the spread of the disease generally.  This involves identifying people who are immunosuppressed or over 60 years old, and providing them with a package of services (like a safe place to stay and regular food deliveries) so that they can remain isolated from others during the course of the pandemic.  Younger people can continue to show up to work and keep markets open while they are healthy, and if they become ill, there will be more hospital beds available to them.

This strategy obviously has some limitations.  Coronavirus is posed to spread most rapidly in dense urban neighborhoods, where few people can afford an entire room to themselves and there’s no reasonable prospect of building new shelters.  The prospect of leaving home to go into a state-run quarantine facility is clearly undesirable unless the facility is well-run, which many will not be.  In addition, people with conditions like HIV or TB already face stigma, and may not want to self-identify in order to go into coronavirus quarantine. However, this doesn’t mean that quarantine interventions are doomed to fail.  Research on the 2014 – 2016 Ebola epidemic in West Africa suggests that building community trust is an essential part of developing effective, locally contextualized interventions.  Similar trust-building practices may be necessary to develop successful public health strategies in the age of coronavirus.

 

What’s the risk of coronavirus in Kenya and Uganda?

As the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has marched through China and Europe, Uganda has avoided any cases to date, and Kenya has only had three cases Like everyone else in the region, I’ve been wondering whether this is likely to continue, and what might happen if the disease did arrive at scale.  I wanted to collect a number of resources that I’ve found useful in thinking about this in a single place.  I am not an epidemiologist and am not making any predictions about the geographic spread of the disease.

Is coronavirus likely to spread to the region?

There are two factors which may play to Kenya and Uganda’s advantage when it comes to preventing the arrival of additional coronavirus cases in the area.  First, the virus has been spreading globally when infected individuals travel between countries.  Both countries have relatively few direct flight links outside of the continent.  Kenya has closed its borders to non-residents as of March 15, and is requiring all travelers to self-quarantine for 14 days.  Uganda is requiring travelers from countries with current coronavirus cases to self-quarantine as well.

World-airline-routemap-2009
Map of global flight paths from Wikipedia.  It’s from 2009, the most recent map available, but the general patterns presumably still hold true today.

Second, in countries currently affected by coronavirus at scale, the disease has also been spreading among communities in contact with an infected person.  However, there’s some tentative evidence that this type of spread is only happening in relatively cool climates. A new paper from Sajadi et al. (2020) notes that all cases of community transmission have been concentrated in a narrow band with temperatures around 10 degrees Celsius / 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  This may be because the coronavirus can’t survive as long outside the body in warmer temperatures.

If this finding holds true, it suggests that if additional infected individuals do travel to Kenya and Uganda, the coronavirus may not spread significantly beyond them.  However, there is still a great deal of uncertainty here, and we shouldn’t trust that warm weather will prevent community transmission.

Are Kenya and Uganda prepared to track the spread of the virus?

There’s reason to be optimistic about public health capacity to track potential coronavirus cases.  Both countries already have infectious disease surveillance infrastructure in place at the international airports due to the recent Ebola epidemic in the nearby DR Congo.  All travelers to Nairobi and Entebbe must report their travel histories, share contact information, and go through a thermal screening at both airports.  Of course, airport screening won’t stop all infected people from entering the country because some may not have symptoms yet, but it’s still useful for surveillance.

In addition, both countries are building on much longer histories of population-level disease surveillance, including those for polio and HIV / AIDS.  As this article from Think Global Health notes,

Because of the robust responses to these diseases, many African countries are starting from a very different baseline than twenty years ago. Although this has not generally included support for ICU-level care that will be required by the sickest people with COVID-19, what these investments have supported are increasingly human resource for health, supply chains, information and surveillance capacities for prevention, detection and long-term response capacity against diverse infectious threats.

Finally, because the onset of the epidemic has been delayed here, both countries have had more time to prepare.  The Africa Centres for Disease Control have been running online trainings for healthcare workers about the coronavirus, and have also developed and distributed coronavirus test kits to most countries across the continent, including Kenya and Uganda.  Both countries have already banned international conferences, and Kenya has also opened a 120-bed isolation center for potential patients. 

What happens if coronavirus does spread within the region?

If community transmission of coronavirus does occur within Kenya and Uganda, one of the main risks is that it may overwhelm healthcare systems with people seeking care.  Taking early preventative measures to slow the spread of the virus makes it more likely that sick people can access care when they need it, as this graph from Our World in Data shows.  Unfortunately, Kenya and Uganda are grappling with weak health systems and poverty, both of which may make it more difficult to contain the virus if it does arrive.

A graph showing that

In both countries, health systems tend to be underfunded.  In Kenya, significant revenue comes from user fees, which discourage poor people from accessing healthcare.  Uganda abolished user fees for healthcare in 2001, but poor people still find it difficult to access care. Kenya is doing fairly well at providing essential medicines, but Ugandan clinics often lack drugs.  The number of intensive care unit (ICU) beds in both countries is low, and only 23% of Ugandan ICUs have ventilators.  On any given day, nearly half of healthcare workers in both countries are absent from their jobs, often because of poor pay and long commutes.  If coronavirus spreads among the population and leaves many people in need of hospitalization, it’s clear that the health systems will struggle to keep up.

Poverty can also make it difficult for people to take other steps to keep themselves safe from coronavirus.  Only 14% of Kenyans have access to soap and water at home, and in Uganda only 8% of families with young children have access to soap and water at home.  Hand sanitizer is available in shops, but not widely used.  Without well-functioning state-run social safety nets, most people also don’t have the luxury of taking time off from work to rest if they are sick.  This both increases the risk that the disease will spread, and makes it more difficult for infected people to recover. Informal insurance within families and religious groups can mitigate this somewhat, but churches have also been vectors for infection in the US and South Korea, meaning that this insurance mechanism could possibly increase the risk of contacting the disease.

Even without cases of coronavirus in the region, the social and economic impacts of the disease are already being felt.  Xenophobic statements about Chinese residents have been reported in Kenya.  And in both countries, an economic slowdown is expected as traders have been cut off from Chinese imports.  The indirect economic effects as people lose their livelihoods may be just as serious as the disease itself.  It’s important for both countries to continue expanding their social safety nets and ensure that healthcare is affordable, even if coronavirus never comes ashore. 

What have previous flu-like pandemics looked like in Africa?

It occurred to me today that I hadn’t heard much about how previous flu-like pandemics have impacted African countries.  Being a geographer at heart, I thought I’d look up some maps.  I’m not an epidemiologist and am not making any predictions about how prior patterns of disease spread might replicate with the novel coronavirus / COVID-19.

I started with Wikipedia’s list of 20th and 21st century flu pandemics, and added seasonal influenza and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), which isn’t the same as the flu.  Let’s work backwards in time, since air travel has become much less expensive and more common since the 1980s, and this really changes the modality by which disease can spread between countries.

The three post-1980 epidemics are coronavirus (2020), H1N1 / swine flu (2009), and SARS (2003).  Despite their weak health systems, African countries have not been highly affected by coronavirus to date.  Transmission of H1N1 was also fairly limited, and transmission of SARS appears to have been almost non-existent.  There’s a lot of debate about why coronavirus hasn’t spread, but two possibilities are the continent’s relatively weak air traffic links to other regions, and improvements in public health surveillance capability since 2000.

Coronavirus / COVID-19 (as of 12 March 2020)

Map showing that the outbreak is concentrated in China, Iran, Italy and the US
Source: Foreign Policy

H1N1 / swine flu (2009)

1280px-H1N1_map_by_confirmed_cases.svgScreen Shot 2020-03-14 at 10.02.32

Screen Shot 2020-03-14 at 10.02.45
Source: Wikipedia
110620383_spread_of_sars_640_v2-nc
Source: The Globalist

The pattern does look different for the seasonal flu.  Unlike temperate climates, where flu actually is seasonal, flu cases are reported year-round in many African countries.  Surveillance data on the flu in African countries is relatively weak and there are few country-specific flu vaccines available.  It’s possible that cases of the flu are often misdiagnosed as malaria, which is also highly prevalent.

Seasonal flu (2011 – 2016)

Global-maps-of-monthly-influenza-activity-2011-2016
Source: Newman et al. (2018)

Let’s look at the pre-1980 epidemics now.  These include outbreaks of H1N1 / Russian flu (1977), H3N2 / Hong Kong flu (1968), H2N2 / Asian flu (1957), and H1N1 / Spanish flu (1918).  I couldn’t find a good map for the Russian flu.  For the other epidemics, I could only find maps tracing the path of the outbreak, rather than displaying the number of cases.

The 1968 Hong Kong flu looks fairly similar to the transmission path for coronavirus, in that Latin America and Africa seem to have been minimally affected.  However, the 1957 Asian flu and the 1918 Spanish flu did impact Africa.  I’m not sure about the mechanism by which the 1957 flu spread, but in 1918 the flu was spread by some of the two million African soldiers who returned home after being forced to fight for their colonizers during WWI.  African countries had some of the highest mortality rates in the pandemic, with 2% of all Africans dying of the flu in only six months.

hong kong flu
Source: Rybicki (2015), via Twitter
Asian_Flu_Map-large
Source: Johns Hopkins School of Public Health

H1N1 / Spanish flu (1918)

spanish flu
Source: Thinglink

There are many reasons why we can’t conclude very much about the spread of the novel coronavirus in Africa based on patterns of previous outbreaks.  Transportation patterns, public health capacity, and the nature of the disease itself are all different for each pandemic.  It’s still important for African countries to continue preparing their health systems for a more widespread coronavirus outbreak.

The DRC has hit an Ebola breakthrough

 

ebola 2
Ebola responders at work, via Al Jazeera

For the first time since June 2018, the DRC has reported that it no longer has any known cases of Ebola.  This comes 14 days after the last new case of Ebola was reported.  If the country makes it another 28 days without a new case, it can officially declare the epidemic over.

Of course, one key challenge is that it’s hard to do surveillance in remote rural areas, many of which are under the control of various militias.  So while this is a reason for optimism, it’s far too soon to declare that the epidemic will be over soon.

Interesting academic articles for February 2020

Here’s what I’m looking forward to reading this month!

Kobina Aidoo and Ryan Briggs.  2019.  “Underpowered: Rolling blackouts in Africa disproportionately hurt the poor.”  African Studies Review.

Electricity demand exceeds supply in many parts of Africa, and this often results in rolling blackouts. This article argues that blackouts tend to concentrate on poorer places within countries, due to both economic and political factors. This argument is tested with an analysis of electricity availability across thirty-two neighborhoods in Accra and survey data from thirty-six African countries. Across these analyses, poorer people with a grid connection experience lower electricity supply than richer people. This article concludes by discussing implications for research on electricity availability, policymakers working on energy, and the distributive politics literature.

J. Andrew Harris, Catherine Kamindo, and Peter Van der Windt.  2020.  “Electoral Administration in Fledgling Democracies: Experimental Evidence from Kenya.”  Journal of Politics.

We examine the effects of national voter registration policies on voting patterns with a large-scale experimental study. Together with Kenya’s electoral commission, we designed an experiment in which 1,674 communities were randomized to a status quo or treatment group, receiving civic education on voter registration, SMS reminders about registration opportunities, and/or local registration visits by election commission staff. We find little evidence that civic education improves registration. Local registration visits improve voter registration, a relationship that increases in poorer communities. Moreover, local registration increased electoral competition and vote preference diversity in down-ballot contests in the 2017 Kenyan elections. Our results suggest that status quo voter registration policies constrain political participation and competition, and that inexpensive policy changes may attenuate the effects of such constraints.

Jeremie Gross, Catherine Guirkinger, and Jean-Philippe Platteau.  2020.  “Buy As You Need: Nutrition and Food Storage Imperfections.” Journal of Development Economics.

In this paper, we investigate whether and how a more steady supply of foodgrain in local markets impacts the nutritional status (measured with body-mass-indexes) of both children and adults, in a context characterized by large seasonal fluctuations in the price and availability of foodgrain. Taking advantage of the random scaling-up of a program of Food Security Granaries in Burkina Faso, we reach three conclusions. First, especially in remote areas where local markets are thin, the program considerably dampens nutritional stress. The effect is strongest among children, and young children in particular, for whom deficient nutrition has devastating long-term consequences. Second we argue that it is a change in the timing of food purchases, translated into a change in the timing of consumption, that drives the nutritional improvement. A simple two-period model shows that, once we account for various forms of storage costs, an increase in nutrition does not necessarily require larger quantity of food purchases or even consumption. Our last and unexpected conclusion is that the losses associated with foodgrain storage do not stem from physical losses in household granaries but rather from inefficient seasonal bodymass fluctuations. One plausible mechanism behind this particular storage imperfection rests on the households’ urge to consume readily available foodgrain.

Moses Khisa.  2020.  “Politicisation and Professionalisation: The Progress and Perils of Civil-Military Transformation in Museveni’s Uganda.”  Civil Wars.  

Problems of civil-military relations have been at the centre of recurring political crises in contemporary Africa. Routine military intrusion in politics characterised the first four decades of independent Africa. Citizens suffered at the hands of the armed forces, infamous for widespread human rights violations. One key response to this dual civil-military problem was to pursue a strategy of politicising the armed forces in order to make them a) subordinate to civilian authority and b) organically close to the public and protective than predatory. This also entailed the militarisation of politics ostensibly to bring the political class into closer conversation and collaboration with the military. To what extent did this strategy contribute to transforming civil-military relations? Taking the Ugandan case, this article argues that transformation was attained in making the military more respectful of citizens’ rights while simultaneously creating a fusion with the ruling class thereby subverting the very goal of professionalism.

Josephine Ahikire and Amon A. Mwiine.  2020.  “Gender equitable change and the place of informal networks in Uganda’s legislative policy reforms.”  Effective States in International Development working paper #134.

Uganda has had an uneven history and experience around gender equity policy reforms, particularly, from the late 1980s and early 1990s to-date. These range from the countrywide constitutional review processes of the early 1990s, legislative activism and reforms around domestic relations, land/property rights, and women’s access to public position, to mention but a few. While some of these gender reforms (commonly promoted through women’s collective mobilisation) were successful, other legislative initiatives faced intense resistance. This paper compares three policy cases – the 1997 Universal Primary Education policy, the 1998 legislative reform around spousal co-ownership of land and the 2010 Domestic Violence Act. Drawing on feminist institutionalism, the paper explores how gender norms operate within institutions (both formal and informal) and how institutional processes construct, reproduce or challenge gender power dynamics in policy reforms. The paper examines the place of informal networks and raises critical questions regarding ways in which women emerge as critical actors in securing and consolidating gender change, the strategies they draw upon to negotiate resistance, and whether the nature of policy reform influences the kind of resistance and (in effect) counterstrategies used to negotiate resistance to gender change. We also assess the implications these legislative processes have for activism around gender equity reforms. Findings indicate creative ways through which women draw on informal networks and networking practices to influence gender equitable change, often revealing the micro, subtly gendered dynamics that animate success or failure of a particular policy reform. We argue that the nature of policy reform, e.g. gender status policies or doctrinal policies, determines the nature and process of policy adoption.

Eric Mvukiyehe and Peter van der Windt.  2020.  “Assessing the Longer Term Impact of Community-Driven Development Programs: Evidence from a Field Experiment in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”  World Bank Policy Research working paper #9140.

Community-driven development programs are a popular model for service delivery and socioeconomic development, especially in countries reeling from civil strife. Despite their popularity, the evidence on their impact is mixed at best. Most studies thus far are based on data collected during, or shortly after, program implementation. Community-driven development’s theory of change, however, allows for a longer time frame for program exposure to produce impact. This study examines the longer term impact of a randomized community-driven development program implemented in 1,250 villages in Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo between 2007 and 2012. The study team returned to these villages in 2015, eight years after the onset of the program. The study finds evidence of the physical endurance of infrastructure built by the program. However, it finds no evidence that the program had an impact on other dimensions of service provision, health, education, economic welfare, women’s empowerment, governance, and social cohesion. These findings suggest that, although community-driven development programs may effectively deliver public infrastructure, longer term impacts on economic development and social transformation appear to be limited.

Cyril Brandt and Tom De Herdt.  2020.  “Reshaping the Reach of the State: The Politics of a Teacher Payment Reform in the DR Congo.”  Journal of Modern African Studies.

We analyse the politics of the reform of teacher payment modalities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in light of the uneven territorial reach of the DRC state. The reform focused on extending this reach by paying all teachers via a bank account, replacing longstanding shared governance arrangements between state and faith-based organizations with a public-private partnership. By using qualitative and quantitative data, we map the political practices accompanying the implementation of the reform. While the reform itself was officially deemed a success, its intended effects were almost completely offset in rural areas. Moreover, governance of teacher payments was not rationalized but instead became even more complex and spatially differentiated. In sum, the reform has rendered governance processes more opaque and it deepened the existing unevenness in the geography of statehood.

Michel Thill and Abel Cimanuka.  2019.  “Governing local security in the eastern Congo: decentralization, police reform and interventions in the chieftaincy of Buhavu.”  Rift Valley Institute.  

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC or Congo), security governance is competitive, fragmented and marked by violence. Multiple actors—state and non-state—vie for influence and many areas of the country lack effective structures to ensure that their residents live in safety and security. In this context, the threat and use of violence has become central to the state’s efforts to maintain social control and public order. This tendency has come to shape the troubled relationship between Congolese citizens and the army and police, reflected in numerous fraught day-to-day interactions. Two ongoing processes— administrative decentralization and police reform—have been designed to turn a page on past practices, bring government and security closer to the population and, consequently, improve this relationship. While they have had some successes, they also risk the re-creation of existing governance dynamics within newly empowered local administrative and security-related entities.

Mary Hallward-Driemeier, Anna Kochanova, and Bob Rijkers.  2020.  “Does Democratization Promote Competition? Indonesian Manufacturing Pre and Post Suharto.”  World Bank Policy Research Group working paper #9112.  

Does democratization promote economic competition? This paper documents that the disruption of political connections associated with Suharto’s fall had a modest pro-competitive effect on Indonesian manufacturing industries in which his family had extensive business interests. Firms with connections to Suharto lost substantial market share following his resignation. Industries in which Suharto family firms had larger market share during his tenure exhibited weak improvements in broader measures of competition in the post-Suharto era relative to industries in which Suharto firms had not been important players.

Anne Buffardi, Samuel Sharp, Sierd Hadley and Rachel A. Archer.  2020.  “Measuring evidence-informed decision-making processes in low- and middle-income countries.”  Overseas Development Institute.

The evidence base on the practice of evidence-informed decision-making (EIDM) in international development is limited. Previous work has identified multiple roles that evidence could play; principles and desirable decision-making practices; and individual, interpersonal, organisational and contextual factors thought to influence the interpretation of evidence and decisions. Despite a proliferation of frameworks and guidance, there is a relative dearth of research on the extent to which and how they are applied in practice, at what cost and with what effects. EIDM faces measurement challenges, including investigation into largely undocumented and sometimes unobservable processes, multi-finality and equifinality (multiple pathways to multiple outcomes), often along extended time horizons, in addition to difficulties establishing counterfactuals. In the health sector, current indicators tend to cluster around two ends of a long change pathway: tracking upstream activities and immediate outputs, and downstream changes in health coverage and outcomes. Building on existing systems, future efforts could be directed at the ‘missing middle’ in measurement, filling notable gaps in defining what constitute quality EIDM processes, minimising biases in measuring these processes and investigating how evidence-informed recommendations make their way through the policy process.

Matteo Alpino and Eivind Moe Hammersmark.  2020.  “The Role of Historical Christian Missions in the Location of World Bank Aid in Africa.”  World Bank Policy Research Group working paper #9146.

This article documents a positive and sizable correlation between the location of historical Christian missions and the allocation of present-day World Bank aid at the grid-cell level in Africa. The correlation is robust to an extensive set of geographical and historical control variables that predict settlement of missions. The study finds no correlation with aid effectiveness, as measured by project ratings and survey-based development indicators. Mission areas display a different political aid cycle than other areas, whereby new projects are less likely to arrive in years with new presidents. Hence, political connections between mission areas and central governments could be one likely explanation for the correlation between missions and aid.

Abhishek Nagaraj and Scott Stern.  2020.  “The Economics of Maps.”  Journal of Economic Perspectives.  

For centuries, maps have codified the extent of human geographic knowledge and shaped discovery and economic decision-making. Economists across many fields, including urban economics, public finance, political economy, and economic geography, have long employed maps, yet have largely abstracted away from exploring the economic determinants and consequences of maps as a subject of independent study. In this essay, we first review and unify recent literature in a variety of different fields that highlights the economic and social consequences of maps, along with an overview of the modern geospatial industry. We then outline our economic framework in which a given map is the result of economic choices around map data and designs, resulting in variations in private and social returns to mapmaking. We highlight five important economic and institutional factors shaping mapmakers’ data and design choices. Our essay ends by proposing that economists pay more attention to the endogeneity of mapmaking and the resulting consequences for economic and social welfare.