BREAD 2021: Insights on mobility, health, and infrastructure

Blog Firms, development, waste, health systems and human mobility

The IGC hosted the BREAD Conference on Economics of Africa from 7-9 July and our new blog series explores key findings from research presented during the conference, including the following publicly available papers on topics such as mobility, health, and infrastructure.

Perpetual motion: Human mobility and spatial frictions in three African countries (Blanchard, Gollin, and Kirchberger 2020)

Finding: Smartphone users in Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania travel frequently and relatively far distances, including between rural areas and cities.

Regional disparity in wages and living standards are characteristic of many low-income countries and mobility frictions have come to be identified as significant potential impediments. Yet, there has been little data or research to prove it. In a novel approach, smartphone pings provide much data on high-frequency mobility. Looking at the data of over 1 million smartphone devices in Nigeria, Kenya, and Tanzania reveals high levels of movement, including between urban and rural areas, and particularly to country capitals, which have high economic activity.

Concrete thinking about development (Beirne and Kirchberger 2020)

Finding: Cement firms in sub-Saharan Africa have considerable market power which enables them to charge higher prices which in turn impedes economic development.

The construction sector, that builds structures such as roads and dams which are essential conduits of productivity, is key for economic development. Cement, an important input, is considerably more expensive in sub-Saharan Africa with a 32% price gap relative to the US. This reflects market power in the cement industry with prices being much higher in economies with fewer firms and more concentrated markets. Analysis reveals that certain cements firms in these countries use their market power to generate excessive profits and consequently, undermine long-term economic growth.

Garbage in, garbage out: The impact of e-waste dumping sites on early child health (Lovo and Rawlings 2021)

Findings: E-waste dumping sites, from 2-3 years after their construction, significantly increase neonatal and infant mortality for nearby residents.

Hazardous electrical and electronic waste is disproportionately disposed of in developing countries, sometimes dumped illegally from developed countries. Within 11 km of large e-waste sites in Accra, Ghana and Lagos, Nigeria, infant and neonatal mortality increased by 4.5 and 6.5 percentage points respectively. Mortality rates post-e-waste site construction decline with distance from the site. These effects began 2-3 years after the dumps were created, likely because air, water, and food pollutants take time to diffuse into the environment.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are those of the authors based on their experience and on prior research and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IGC.