Andy Sumner

About Andy Sumner

Andy Sumner is co-director of the King’s International Development Institute at King’s College London. He is an interdisciplinary development economist. His research covers global poverty and Southeast Asia, specifically, Indonesia. Before taking his position at King’s college, he was a research fellow at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, United Kingdom. He holds associate positions at Oxford University at the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and the Center for Global Development in Washington, DC. He is a vice president of the European Association of Development Research and Training Institutes and a council member of the Development Studies Association. He was listed in Foreign Policy Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Global Thinkers’ and writes a regular column for Global Policy.

Who spends what on foreign aid and where?

The ‘traditional’ foreign aid donors (aka the OECD DAC) released it’s latest report (here) and stats on aid (here) this week. This is of course amid different debates each side of the Atlantic (the UK’s 40% increase in aid amid major public spending cuts and the US aid cuts that the NY times reported on here with infographic here).

So, what does this week’s report and new data say on who spends what on aid?

A very quick ‘3 take-ways’ run down:

First, who get’s most OECD DAC aid?

A rather strange top 10 rather unevenly linked to poverty or income levels:

Turkey, Pal, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Serbia, Morocco, Sudan, DRC, Ukraine, Egypt…

What kind of countries get aid most?

55% goes to low income countries; 45% to middle-income countries.

Finally, which countries are aid dependent?

Surprisingly, not as many as you’d think if one takes 5% or 10% of GNI (gross national income) in ODA (overseas dev assistance) for medium and high aid dependency.

What to make of all this? How closely are poverty and aid linked?

The world’s poor live in 3 places:

1. Half of world’s poor are in China and India – these countries (arguably) have sufficient resources and in fact are both foreign aid donors themeselves – aid to China and India is probably in the shared endeavour of global public goods, possibly concessional loans.

2. A quarter of poor live in other lower middle income countries (MICs) – again plenty of domestic resources here so no real need for lots of aid but many of these are also fragile states or have governance issues – Pakistan and Nigeria – that no one knows quite how to intervene (see some thoughts here).

3. And a quarter of worlds poor are low income countries (LICs) who unequivocally need aid but most LICs will be lower MICs in next decade so what happens to aid after that?

This all leaves aid in need of an overhaul I think (see aid 2.0 post here).

Maybe aid needs a rethink with objectives related to insuring against new global risks – climate adaptation, financial instability for example or tried and tested poverty interventions such as conditional cash transfers direct to the poor?

Happy to hear views below…


How to unseat foreign aid mantras?

I just finished a fantastic and provocative book – a wake up call to the aid and development ‘industry’ (of which I am a part so good to be woken up once in a while)…

The book is ‘Delivering Development ’ by rising star of the blogosphere Edward Carr (see his blog Open the Echo Chamber and good posts on all sorts of stuff). He’s part of what seems to be a growing group of people who have academic backgrounds, blogs and work in policy or what Nora Lustig calls the ‘scholar-practitioner’. In fact he is currently on secondment to USAID from University of South Carolina, working on issues at the intersection of development and climate change.

Ed has an interesting background. He went to Ghana to do an archeological dig, became more interested in events in the present, and ended up a social scientist mashup of geographer/anthropologist/aid and development policy wonk, focused on understanding how the global poor manage economic, environmental and other challenges in their everyday lives.

Given Ed’s book draws on his work in Ghana, it illustrates many of the contradictions of globalization that were in various headlines last week in the business press on Ghana’s incredible oil boom. The size of the Ghanaian economy grew by a third in just one year and there’s been a massive expansion of mobile communications in a country where average incomes are still only about $3/day per person (exchange rate conversion) and 1 in 5 live under the poverty line of $2/day (PPP$s) (see data here and there’s a reasonable but mixed picture on the UN poverty goals in Ghana – see here).

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What is resilience?

Just back from a lot of discussion on scarcity, resilience and crises at a conference convened by the Development Studies Association and European Association of Development Institutes.

The basic rationale for the conference are outlined well here and here. Crudely – lots of interlinked crisis and a need to think how to build adaptive institutions, ideas, and political coalitions. The conference blog is worth a look (here).

In short – global shocks in economics, food security and fuel prices, together with chronic stressors relating to demographic pressure, climate change and resource scarcity – aka ‘the long crisis of globalisation’ or the ‘perfect storm’ of problems – are combining to produce complex, shifting configurations of vulnerability as experienced by households and communities. And all of this is leading to more interest in the ideas of resilience.

Understanding these complexities and vulnerabilities in global development, and navigating global volatility for resilience-building purposes, is not straightforward (surprise). Together with Rich Mallet at the Overseas Development Institute, we review (and published by UNDP’s International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth in Brasilia) represents one attempt to make sense of this problem. Reviewing the inter-disciplinary literature on vulnerability, we found that existing definitions of the concept largely fail to capture the multidimensional and complex nature of vulnerability in the twenty-first century. Vulnerability tends to be viewed narrowly by discipline or sector, which obstructs the kind of broad, holistic analysis needed to understand how patterns of vulnerability occur, how they shift, and what can be done to strengthen people’s capacities to respond. We call for a new analytical approach that is able to manage complexity and recognise the many faces of vulnerability…

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Are the world poverty goals for 2015 on-track? It depends when you ask…

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – the UN Poverty Targets – are just a few years away from judgment day – 2015 – so it’s a pretty good time to ask how are they doing – especially as people start to think about a new generation of MDGs or MDGs 2.0. In fact how the world fares on the current MDGs may well determine if there is even a second set.

A new report out this week from Ben Leo and Ross Thuotte using the latest available data  (see interactive maps here and data excel here and paper here and country-by-country graphs here) outlines where countries are. The key findings this year are:

– Overall, low-income countries’ progress toward the highly ambitious MDGs improved modestly this year while middle-income countries’ performance declined slightly because of a deterioration in the Middle East and North Africa.

– Low-income countries improved this year, on average, on four core MDG target indicators: extreme poverty, hunger, HIV/AIDs, and water. Performance declined modestly for three core MDG indicators: education, gender equality, and child mortality.

– Among low-income countries, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Niger produced the most dramatic improvements this year. For middle-income countries, Mexico and Uruguay exhibited the most dramatic improvements. Honduras and Ecuador remain tied for the best performing countries. Others in the top 10 achievers include – not surprisingly – Brazil, China, and Vietnam and surprisingly (perhaps?) are – Cambodia, Egypt (erm… and Tunisia did well last year on the MDGs), El Salvador and Sri Lanka.

However, the authors note that:

– Widespread data revisions or retractions affected a number of countries’ MDG Progress Index scores, particularly in relation to the education indicator. This effect highlights the practical limitations of attempting to track annual MDG progress and the sensitivity of performance trends to often poor, non-static data sources.

Erm… oh dear – just a few years away from judgment day (2015) and the data is subject to ‘widespread revisions’ ? eg 31 of 67 countries with data revised their data for the education MDG.

And about a quarter of countries countries don’t have a baseline to judge if specific MDGs are met.

As debates on MDGs 2.0 begin what are the implications of the above? Maybe chose targets for data that exists at the outset (ie the baseline) so one can judge if the targets are met?

All of this is a bit worrying of course because data matters not only to wonky geeks – but how can one judge any kind of results without a full set of data? (and one that isn’t subject to substantial revisions year-to-year…).

Ducks, Gyms and Chinese foreign aid

Foreign aid from ‘new donors’ (aka emerging economies) now makes up around $10bn/year.

And this has doubled in the last five years as the Economist noted last week in a piece on ‘aid 2.0’ triggered by the news that India is to set up its own aid agency with a budget of at least US$1.5-$2bn/year (or triple the annual value of UK aid to India leading to the appearance UK aid is being subcontracted).

One might well ask what if most of the world’s poor live in new donor countries – does it suggest the poor overseas are more deserving than the poor at home?

So, what might aid 2.0 looks like?

One way to take a look is with Chinese foreign aid now that there’s a fascinating dataset on Chinese aid projects (here) that has been painstakingly put together by the Aid Data guys. (By the way a health warning: I am not a Chinese aid expert – read a good read here or the new Chinese government aid white paper here or search Duncan Green’s blog for various China pieces).

The Aid Data dataset of Chinese aid projects covers some 500 Chinese foreign aid projects from 1990-2005 by the year, project description and country recipient and in a very few cases the financial value. For example, in 1991 Chinese aid funded a duck breeding farm in Ecuador breeding 70,000 ducklings a year (wonder if it’s had a Randomised Evaluation yet?).

Of course this is just the project aid declared by the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and data only runs up to 2005 but it makes fascinating reading if you’ve ever wondered what ‘new’ donor’s aid looks like and how different or not it is from ‘traditional’ donors aid (meaning the OECD countries).

So what does Chinese project aid look like based on the Aid Data dataset?

A quick scan suggests: (i) About a half of the projects listed have a direct relation to standards of living via social investments in health equipment or education facilities or via economic growth and production or income generation; (ii) As is well known there’s lots of infrastructure spending (aka aid as concrete) – about a quarter of the projects listed relate to infrastructure – water and power infrastructure in particular; and (iii) Perhaps surprisingly, a quarter or so of all the projects listed relate to leisure and sport – there are numerous new or renovated gymnasiums in Africa (eg Niger, Rwanda and Benin to name a few) and new sports stadiums – one of the biggest being a 30,000 seater stadium in Togo ‘covering an area of 36,000 square metres and including, one Olympic track, an electronic scoreboard, quality pitches and a giant screen’.

So, how different is all this from ‘traditional’ aid or aid 1.0? Much bilateral aid in recent years might well fit into the first grouping of social investments and income generation; some would fit into infrastructure but perhaps less so and probably little ‘traditional’ aid would be leisure or sport related I’m guessing…

And, more importantly perhaps is all of this is probably not where the big money is given the package aid deals of trade and investment from China, the real value probably lies in those non-aid, trade and investment aspects of the deal than in gyms and duck farms (even if they do breed 70,000 ducklings a year which sounds pretty impressive to me).



Why is inequality falling in Latin America?

If inequality is falling it’s worth taking a closer look as to why.

A range of new papers, seek to shed light on why inequality has fallen in some Latin American countries.

All of these suggest that the policy levers for tackling inequality and poverty are clear enough.

I noted in an earlier blog (here): inequality matters because high inequality can inhibit growth, discourage institutional development towards accountable government and undermine civic and social life leading to conflict especially in multi-ethnic settings.

So what has happened in Latin America? Lopez-Calva and Lustig have observed inequality has declined in 13 of the 17 countries with comparable trend data.

Whilst Palma has argued that the countries in Latin America with the worst income distribution in 1985 (Brazil, Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Panama) have reduced inequality but only by a relatively minor amount and those countries with lower inequality in 1985 (Uruguay, Costa Rica, Argentina and Mexico) have actually increased inequality over the last 25 years.

Now a range of new papers, seek to shed light on why inequality has fallen at least in some Latin American countries.

One new paper for example, by Soares et al., at Carnegie note that due to ‘outstanding’ targeting, Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs) cost less than 1% of GDP and account for 15-21% of the reduction in three Latin American countries: Brazil, Mexico and Chile.

Other papers such as Birdsall et al., argue that ‘social democratic’ regimes (eg Brazil, Chile and Uruguay) are more likely to reduce inequality than ‘left populist’ (eg Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela); and both are more likely to reduce inequality that non-left regimes (eg Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru)

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The MIFFs – a whole new kind of country?

There’s a good piece (here) in the Economist on a whole new kind of country – the MIFFs (middle-income, failed or fragile states) picking up on a Global Dashboard blog last week (here).

Who are the MIFFs?

Home to 17% of the world’s poor and 40% of the world’s conflict they include a whole range of countries (see below) who are fragile and no longer so poor.