The Illusion of Sustainability

36 Pages Posted: 21 Jul 2008

See all articles by Michael Kremer

Michael Kremer

Harvard University - Department of Economics; Brookings Institution; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); Center for Global Development; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Edward Miguel

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: 1/22/2004

Abstract

The history of foreign development assistance is one of movement away from addressing immediate needs to a focus on the underlying causes of poverty. A recent manifestation is the move towards "sustainability," which stresses community mobilization, education, and cost-recovery. This stands in contrast to the traditional economic analysis of development projects, with its focus on providing public goods and correcting externalities. We examine evidence from randomized evaluations on strategies for combating intestinal worms, which affect one in four people worldwide. Providing medicine to treat worms was extremely cost effective, although medicine must be provided twice per year indefinitely to keep children worm-free. An effort to promote sustainability by educating Kenyan school children on worm prevention was ineffective, and a "mobilization" intervention from psychology failed to boost de-worming drug take-up. Take-up was highly sensitive to drug cost: a small increase in cost led to an 80 percent reduction in take-up (relative to free treatment). The results suggest that, in the context we examine, the pursuit of sustainability may be an illusion, and that in the short-run, at least, external subsidies will remain necessary.

Keywords: sustainable development, economic development, foreign aid

Suggested Citation

Kremer, Michael R. and Miguel, Edward, The Illusion of Sustainability (1/22/2004). Center for Global Development Working Paper No. 35. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1111721 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1111721

Michael R. Kremer (Contact Author)

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Edward Miguel

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