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The Illusion of Sustainability

61 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2006  

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)

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Date Written: February 2004

Abstract

The history of foreign development assistance is one of movement away from addressing immediate needs and toward focusing 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 schoolchildren on worm prevention was ineffective, and a mobilization' intervention from psychology failed to boost deworming 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.

Suggested Citation

Kremer, Michael and Miguel, Edward, The Illusion of Sustainability (February 2004). NBER Working Paper No. w10324. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=509855

Michael R. Kremer (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Economics ( email )

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Center for Global Development

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Edward Miguel

University of California, Berkeley - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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