Thursday, 7 August 2008

Copenhagen Consensus 2008

The Copenhagen Consensus Center reported the outcome of the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 (CC08) on 30 May. “Over two years, more than 50 economists have worked to find the best solutions to ten of the world’s biggest challenges. During the last week of May, an expert panel of 8 top-economists, including 5 Nobel Laureates, sat down to assess the research.” These eight top economists were “asked to address the ten challenge areas and to answer the question, “What would be the best ways of advancing global welfare, and particularly the welfare of the developing countries, illustrated by supposing that an additional $75 billion of resources were at their disposal over a four-year initial period?” The ten challenge areas were:

Air pollution
Global warming
Malnutrition and hunger
Sanitation and water
Subsidies and trade barriers
Women and Development

Professor Dale Whittington (University of North Carolina) was the lead author of the Sanitation and Water Challenge Paper. The final ranking of 30 chosen solutions (“based on the costs and benefits of the solutions”) is given here and, if you open the pdf file hyperlinked to just above the list (difficult to get its URL!), you can read these comments on Sanitation and Water:

“Under this heading, the experts considered interventions that would improve access to clean drinking water and/or sanitation. The solutions they considered were: setting up a rural water supply program providing poor communities in Africa with deep boreholes and public hand pumps; developing campaigns that raise awareness of disease transmission, health costs, and the social benefits of sanitation; ensuring affected communities have access to technology to remove contaminants in raw water supplies; building reservoirs in some parts of Africa, such as the sparsely inhabited Blue Nile gorge in Ethiopia. The expert panel considered that biosand filters and the rural water supply program offered some promising benefits as intermediate solutions to this problem.”

There were four Sanitation and Water solutions in the top 30: bio-sand filters for household water treatment (ranked 15th), rural water supply (16th), total sanitation campaign (20th) and large multipurpose dam in Africa(24th). [Not sure these would have been my choices!]

There was a Youth Forum meeting at the same time as the main panel of experts. The Youth Forum came up with a rather different ranking: rural water supply was ranked 3rd, total sanitation coverage 9th, bio-sand filters 22nd and large multipurpose dam in Africa 31st.

The CC08 book is Solutions for the World's Biggest Problems: Costs and Benefits, published by Cambridge University Press in November 2007 (i.e., before the CC08 meeting in May 2008 … ???). Chapter 23 is ‘Unsafe water and lack of sanitation’ and was written by Dr Guy Hutton, who also wrote the Problem Paper on water and sanitation for the CC08 ‘A day with Bill Gates’ which took place in March 2008 (see also my blog of 22 January).

Confused? You might well be! Especially if you look at the CC04 rankings: three sanitation and water projects were ranked ‘good’: small-scale water technology for livelihoods (ranked 6th overall), community-managed water supply and sanitation (7th) and research on water productivity in food production (8th). There’s also the CC06 rankings: community-managed water supply and sanitation shot up to 2nd place, small-scale water technology for livelihoods fell to 11th, and research on water productivity in food production fell to 15th; re-using wastewater for agriculture came in at 19th, and sustainable food and fish production in wetlands entered at 21st. The CC08 sanitation and water solutions don’t seem to bear any relation at all to those of CC04 and CC06. Of course, they don’t have to, but such huge inconsistencies can’t be much help to policy makers in developing countries.