In this edition of Missing Pieces, Charles Landow reviews stories on Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Indonesia, and Mongolia, as well as a scholarly paper on health. Enjoy and have a great weekend.
Cash for the Congo: Starting in 2007, the Tuungane program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo “funded classrooms, clinics, and other investments in 1,250 villages,” which had to form elected committees to plan and execute projects in consultation with villagers. More recently, in what the Financial Times calls “an acid test of whether Tuungane had helped to promote effective village institutions,” an evaluation project gave cash to Tuungane and non-Tuungane villages and examined their process for spending it. Tuungane’s impact on improving governance appears minimal. In both groups, almost equal proportions of villages used elections to choose committees to spend the funds. The average amount of money that went missing was “nearly identical in treatment and control areas” as well. But even if Tuungane’s effects on governance were limited, it is heartening that the UK’s Department for International Development, which funded Tuungane, has allowed such a rigorous study of its work.
Health Shocks: A paper from the National Bureau for Economic Research reviews a trove of studies on the connection between “early-life health shocks,” from malnutrition to war, and adult outcomes. Among the most arresting findings: Iraqi and Ugandan babies in utero during Ramadan (when their mothers fast) are more than 20 percent likelier “to be disabled in adulthood.” For Indonesian women, 20 percent more rainfall in their birth year leads to more than half a centimeter of extra height and almost a quarter-year more schooling. Kenyans whose schools received deworming treatment go on to work 12 percent more hours than others. And “children exposed to the Rwandan genocide” complete almost half a year less school than other kids. As the authors conclude, “a growing literature shows that events in early life have long-term consequences for adult health, cognition, and labor market success.” But how exactly these effects work remains mostly a mystery.
The Surakarta Solution: How did an Indonesian city known for ethnic and religious tension, plodding public services, poor housing, and violent protests begin to tackle its vexing woes? A ForeignPolicy.com piece tells the story. The main character is Joko Widodo (aka Jokowi), who was elected mayor of Surakarta in 2005. According to the article, Jokowi gave recalcitrant street vendors incentives to move to a new market, reducing overcrowding in public spaces. He also opened “one stop service” centers to streamline permits and other government services; offered training and jobs to residents of “squatter communities, focusing in particular on women;” and gave free health insurance to the poorest citizens. While challenges remain, the article concludes, Jokowi’s success “offers lessons for other cities with similar issues.”
Mining’s Mixed Blessings: Two New York Times pieces explore the good and ill arising from the earth in Afghanistan and Mongolia. In the former, oil and minerals could bring much-needed funds for development. But with warlords and the Taliban “jockeying to widen their turf to include areas with mineral wealth,” they could also intensify conflict. And as international forces prepare to depart, investors are hesitant “to put in hundreds of millions of dollars they could lose if Afghanistan again descends into turmoil.” Meanwhile, “even before its scheduled opening next month, the work on the huge Oyu Tolgoi mine project already accounts for roughly 30 percent of Mongolia’s annual economic output.” Though the copper and gold project is providing electricity and jobs, local herders say it is drawing scarce resources from them and their animals. “We don’t need money from mining,” one says. “What we need is water and land.” CFR’s Terra Lawson-Remer proposes ways to beat the resource curse in a recent Policy Innovation Memorandum.