Experimental economics, African style

This settlement in western Kenya, where Ms. Odera lives, has become
a giant test tube, and Ms. Okoth’s instruction is one part of that
experiment. Eventually there will be 10 such test villages, scattered
across the world’s poorest continent.

Led by Jeffrey Sachs,
director of the Earth Institute of Columbia University, the project
aims to fight poverty in all its aspects – from health and education to
agriculture and energy in one focused area – to prove that conditions
for millions of people like Ms. Odera and her neighbors can be improved
in just five years.

It is an important and uncertain gambit. If
it fails, initiatives like that pushed recently by Prime Minister Tony
Blair of Britain to greatly increase foreign aid to Africa may seem
foolhardy. If a single village cannot be turned around with focused
attention, how can whole communities and even countries be revitalized?

…The researchers behind the program are keeping track of every penny
they spend, trying to demonstrate that for a modest amount, somewhere
around $110 per person, a village can be tugged out of poverty.

have tried to measure exactly how bad Sauri was at the start of the
project last fall. Every home was surveyed to get an accurate portrait
of the population. Blood tests were taken among a smaller group for a
nutritional analysis, because many villagers eat only once a day, and
show it.

Blood will also be tested to determine how widespread
the malaria parasite is, and then again later, to see whether the
mosquito bed nets given to every villager help keep more people,
especially children, alive.

Here is the New York Times story.  Here is my earlier post on Sachs’s plan.  Here is an on-line World Bank discussion about when foreign aid works and doesn’t; they invite MR readers to join in.


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