The Water and Health Policy Puzzle in Developing Countries |

The Water and Health Policy Puzzle in Developing Countries


In May 2008, eight distinguished economists, including five Nobel Laureates, met in Copenhagen under the auspices of the Copenhagen Consensus, directed by Bjørn Lomborg of the Copenhagen Business School, to reflect upon priorities for aid to less-developed countries. A few dozen leading economists working in various sectors (e.g., trade, health, education, and water and sanitation) presented their analyses and recommendations to the Nobel panel for investments in their own sector specialties. The Nobel panel then prioritized those recommendations on the basis of the cost-benefit analyses presented by these sector specialists and the panel members’ own judgment. The panel’s main recommendation was that new funds for development aid should be heavily focused on health interventions. This policy conclusion is supported by the World Health Organization and the Gates Foundation, and many international organizations.

Development professionals and donors who believe that global public health initiatives should have first claim on development aid dollars confront a puzzle: If public health interventions are such fantastically attractive economic
investments for poor people in developing countries, why has the diffusion of interventions such as impregnated bednets, point-of-use water treatment technologies, and vaccines been so slow, whereas other technological innovations like mobile phones have spread like wildfire? This paper reviews the empirical evidence available about the demand of households in developing countries for improved water quality and other preventative health interventions, and shows that it is in fact quite low.

The paper discusses the policy significance of this wide gap between what experts from industrialized countries think should be done, and what households in developing countries actually want in terms of development assistance.

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Dale Whittington, Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA), and the Manchester Business School (UK)

Tuesday, 13 July 2010
12.15 p.m. - 1.30 p.m.

Seminar Room 3-1
Level 3, Manasseh Meyer
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
469C Bukit Timah Road
Singapore 259772

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