4: Social Sector Service Delivery 2

This session brought together three studies of social sector service delivery with potentially important consequences for policymakers considering how to select priorities from many competing agendas.

The first, presented by Dr. Jeffrey Hammer of Princeton University, discussed sanitation and health in South Asian slums with a focus on Delhi. Dr. Hammer summarized two findings pithily: “If water enters your house from the street during the year, people in your house, especially infants will get sick a lot,” and “If your neighbours defecate in the open, you and your children will get sick a lot.” Specifically, he highlighted correlations between areas of open defecation and children’s shorter height, and between water entering the home and cases of diarrhoea, including very dangerous recurrent infant illness. This isn’t an individual problem of poverty – instead, the behaviour of one’s neighbours is an externality, and sewers are public goods which the government ought to provide. Hammer advised policymakers to focus on the basics of doing what they can do, and to provide public goods before private goods. In this case, that would mean emphasizing water and sanitation above less-cost effective interventions. There could also be ways to generate accountability for these projects. When early results were shared with the neighbourhood associations in the study areas, the residents said they “knew water came into their houses but they didn’t know it could make them sick,” and then went on to demand better sanitation from their elected representatives.

In the second study, “Coming up short: Recovery gaps in child development and the role of maternal education after the 2005 Pakistan earthquake,” Dr. Tahir Andrabi of Pomona College presented the first academic analysis of the long-term effects of the earthquake. Four years after the quake, he found that the violent trauma from the earthquake had significant, permanent effects on children. Some of these effects hit everyone, but some affected the poor more. This kind of shock can exacerbate “poverty traps”, in which inequality is passed on to the next generation. Dr. Andrabi’s research employed a rigorous method comparing randomly selected villages further from the earthquake’s fault line with those closer to the quake. Despite the high levels of post-quake aid and reconstruction and the recovery of household consumption , Andrabi found persistent dangers that were less visible. The study caught major differences between the height and test scores of children close to the fault line and those further away. Living further away from the fault line was equivalent to getting another teacher in the classroom in terms of test scores. While the height of children who were in utero at the time of the quake was affected for both richer and poorer families, a higher level of maternal education protected children from the “cognitive gap” (lower test scores) their poorer neighbours suffered. The study provides important and sobering work on the long-term effects of shocks on children’s development. Following trauma, immediate disaster aid, no matter how well done, will need supplemental long-term policies to protect children and to prevent the poor from suffering disproportionally.

The third presentation covered Karthik Muralidharan and Nishith Prakash’s work on bicycle distribution to girls in Bihar. The programme works similarly to a conditional cash transfer, but has advantages for intra-household bargaining, as the bicycle is publicly and visibly used by the girl and reduces the effort required to get to school. The program has been very successful – school attendance increased by 30% and exam attendance also rose. As might be expected, the effect was greatest for girls who lived a good cycling distance from school, and for whom the cycles helped the most. To check whether increased school attendance was caused by the new bicycles or by something else, Muralidharan compared Bihar with neighbouring Jharkand and examined the differences in their growth rates with a sophisticated statistical analysis (for more, see the full paper below). The IGC has also published a number of videos on the cycle project, available on YouTube. The policy-relevance of this study reaches beyond the benefits of school attendance alone. Bicycles allow schools to be spaced a little further apart, taking advantage of economies of scale. The programme’s delivery mechanism was remarkably corruption-free. And of course girls’ school attendance has been shown to have many positive benefits. Muralidharan concluded with a quote from American women’s leader Susan B Anthony: “I think the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.”

By Mari Oye, Country Economist, IGC Myanmar