What is the best way to help the poor?
That is a grand question that will bring forth dozens of convincing answers. A group of outstanding researchers have been asking the same question for several years now, as part of the Copenhagen Consensus (http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com). They have tried to scientifically understand how to best spend a hypothetical $75 billion that is available to be put to good use. Various proposals were vetted by a team of four Nobel Prize-winning economists.
The top solution: fighting malnourishment.
“One of the most compelling investments is to get nutrients to the world’s undernourished. The benefits from doing so – in terms of increased health, schooling, and productivity – are tremendous,” said Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith in a press statement released in May, when the Copenhagen Consensus 2012 report was made public. It follows similar studies in 2004 and 2008.
“New research by John Hoddinott et al. of the International Food Policy Research Institute shows that for just $100 per child, interventions including micronutrient provision, complementary foods, treatments for worms and diarrheal diseases, and behavior change programs, could reduce chronic under-nutrition by 36 percent in developing countries. Research by Peter Orazem of Iowa State University points to the educational benefits of this spending, because malnutrition slows learning,” says the Copenhagen Consensus press statement.
The 16 best initiatives to back are as follows:
1. Bundled micronutrient interventions to fight hunger and improve education
2. Expanding the Subsidy for Malaria Combination Treatment
3. Expanded Childhood Immunization Coverage
4. Deworming of Schoolchildren, to improve educational and health outcomes
5. Expanding Tuberculosis Treatment
6. R&D to Increase Yield Enhancements, to decrease hunger, fight biodiversity destruction, and lessen the effects of climate change
7. Investing in Effective Early Warning Systems to protect populations against natural disaster
8. Strengthening Surgical Capacity
9. Hepatitis B Immunization
10. Using Low-Cost Drugs in the case of Acute Heart Attacks in poorer nations (these are already available in developed countries)
11. Salt Reduction Campaign to reduce chronic disease
12. Geo-Engineering R&D into the feasibility of solar radiation management
13. Conditional Cash Transfers for School Attendance
14. Accelerated HIV Vaccine R&D
15. Extended Field Trial of Information Campaigns on the Benefits From Schooling
16. Borehole and Public Hand Pump Intervention
They could be other options as well, but what is important is that the researchers working on the project have used rigorous analysis to assess benefits from spending. It is an approach that government would do well to follow, rather than the current fashion of launching expensive programmes that are often not backed with empirical analysis of their efficacy.