Charter Cities – visionary, naive or bonkers?

October 27, 2009
Charter Cities are a proposal to build cities from scratch in the world’s poorest nations, outsourcing their design and government to rich countries. Visionary, naïve or plain bonkers? Probably a bit of all three. They are the brainchild of US economist Paul Romer, who explains his idea on this (20 minute) video. He’s serious – last year he gave up

Forget Cannes – check out the Golden Poo Awards, 2009

October 23, 2009
OK, so Global Handwashing Day on 15 October may have passed you by, but take a minute (well, 3 minutes) to watch these two winning entries (less than two minutes each) for the accompanying Golden Poo awards.   Behind the humour is a very serious purpose of course. Handwashing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to

25 years after the Ethiopian famine, what have we learned?

October 22, 2009
It’s 25 years since the Ethiopian famine and the region is again being flayed by drought. Expect lots of media coverage, at least some of it along the lines of ’why did we bother? Nothing’s changed.’ Not so. Band Aids and Beyond, an Oxfam briefing paper published today, summarizes what’s been learned since then and asks why donors and governments

Water, land, air, life: what is a safe environmental operating space for humanity?

October 21, 2009
Sorry guys, sorting out climate change is just the start. Their success in influencing climate change policy (if not practice) seems to have emboldened earth system scientists to initiate a wider debate about the earth’s limits. A recent issue of Nature journal tries to establish the ecological ‘operating space’ for humans, and could spark off some pretty interesting debates over

Migration and development: how to improve on a feeble new Human Development Report

October 20, 2009
The Human Development Report, published by UNDP, is traditionally the best of the UN annual tomes. This year’s HDR, entitled Overcoming Barriers, discusses migration. It’s a critical issue in development – moving in search of work and a better life has always been a strategy for people living in poverty as most modern-day Americans and Australians can testify (not including indigenous inhabitants,

Madness, disloyalty and the reality-based community: Great quotes from Good and Bad Power

October 16, 2009
‘Good and Bad Power: The Ideals and Betrayals of Government’ by Geoff Mulgan combines real insight with a wonderfully eclectic selection of quotes from across the ages. Here’s a small selection: ‘Madness is something rare in individuals, but in groups, parties, peoples, ages, it is the rule.’ Friedrich Nietzsche ‘The highest manifestation of life consists of this: that a being governs its

Cleaning up Dirty Elections – what works?

October 15, 2009
The Centre for the Study of African Economies in Oxford (home to Paul Collier, among others) is putting out some fascinating two pagers on its work, including two recent papers on ‘dirty elections’. In ‘Cleaning up Dirty Elections’ Paul Collier and Anke Hoeffler go to work  on a new data set spanning nearly 30 years and 155 countries (suggesting that

Can we say climate change ’causes’ extreme weather events?

October 14, 2009
Every time a flood, cyclone or drought makes it into the media, my colleague John Magrath is asked whether climate change is to blame. In a valiant attempt to avoid the researcher’s reflex but annoying ‘it’s more complicated than that’ response, he has produced this briefing. ‘There’s a natural tendency to blame major disasters solely or largely on climate change

Portfolios of the Poor – a great new book

October 13, 2009
Portfolios of the Poor gave me the same feeling of excitement as the World Bank’s epic ‘Voices of the Poor’ study. Both of them are the fruit of intense scrutiny of the real lives of poor people that uncovers insights and destroys stereotypes. Poor people are most definitely not financial illiterates, but often sophisticated managers of complex financial portfolios that

Jasmine Rice in the Weeping Plain: successful adaptation to climate change

October 9, 2009
Lured by its wonderful title, I’ve just been reading a new briefing about some successful adaptation work in Northeast Thailand. Here’s a summary: In 2007, farmers in Yasothorn Province, north-east Thailand, experienced the longest dry spell during a rainy season in decades. Yasothorn, one of the 10 poorest provinces in the country, is part of the ‘Weeping Plain’ named after

What comes after the MDGs?

October 8, 2009
Gave a presentation on this last week. I’ve blogged before on the strengths and weaknesses of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but if you want more,  ‘Promoting Pro-poor Policy after the MDGs’ a recent conference organized by EADI, ActionAid, IDS and others has dozens of background papers (prize for most world-weary title goes to Pietro Garau for ‘The MDGs are modest,

What happens when negotiations fail to prevent 2 million deaths? Not much, apparently

October 7, 2009
Suppose weapons of mass destruction had taken 2.1 million lives over the last three years. International diplomacy would surely be at fever pitch, the UN would be in constant session, leaders would be shuttling to and fro trying to bring a halt to the slaughter. Wrong. Conventional arms have, directly or indirectly, killed that number of people, and yet international