For more than a year now (since 20 July 2016), the road between Santa Barbara and Caranavi (on the primary road between La Paz and Rurrenabaque) has been closed from 7 am to 5 pm, Monday to Saturday, due to road construction activities. We didn’t know that, though, when we left La Paz at 5 am last Tuesday morning in order to drive to Rurrenabaque. When leaving La Paz, well before dawn, we paid the road toll of Bs. 9.50, and the guy in the toll booth didn’t think to warn us that we would soon have to wait for 9.5 hours because the road is closed all day.
According to Nina and Arduz (2016), the density of roads in Bolivia is about 8 km per 100 km2 of territory, which is less than half the average density in Latin America and less than a third of the world average of 28 km/100 km2. By 2012, about 52% of the primary road network was paved, while a very small fraction of other roads was paved. The lack of good roads constitutes a serious limitation on the development of the country, as it dramatically increases transportation time and vehicle maintenance costs, and therefore transport costs (1).
This situation is pretty much inevitable for a large, sparsely populated, mountainous, jungle covered country, like Bolivia, but the Government of Bolivia has been doing its best to improve the situation by channelling enormous amounts of money into road construction (around USD 10 billion during the last 10 years), making the transport sector by far the single biggest recipient of public funds. For example, last year the Bolivian Government budgeted 28.9% of all public investment to the transport sector (28.9% of USD 6.4 billion amounts to USD 1.8 billion), while the education and health sectors received 5.5% each, and the water infrastructure sector only 0.9% (2).
The problem is that almost all of these road investments have been unbelievably badly executed.
Academic research is rarely nauseating, and I did not expect to get sick to my stomach from a research project we have with Boston University called “Safeguarding Sustainable Development.” The project is simply trying to find out whether the social and environmental safeguards of the institutions that finance major infrastructure projects in Latin America (e.g. CAF, IDB, WB) help secure the successful implementation of the projects with minimal environmental harm and minimal harm to the people living in the affected areas. The project covers several countries, but at INESAD we just have to evaluate three Bolivian road projects.
Last week we visited the first of our road projects, which is the double-road between La Paz and Oruro (Bolivia’s Highway No. 1). Most people appreciate this new road because it makes travelling between La Paz and Oruro much quicker and safer. It also created lots of local jobs during construction, and local communities have generally been adequately consulted and well compensated for the direct adverse effects of the road construction project. Local people quickly figured out how to get from A to B using this new road (even if it means driving in the wrong lane in the wrong direction for a stretch), so for them the lack of, or highly confusing, road signs were not considered a big problem.
Last month I participated in a very interesting workshop on water and sanitation in rural Bolivia organized by the Ministry of Environment and Water. I learned from the engineers and sociologists there that things are never as simple as economists tend to think. But as the only economist present, I also tried to teach the engineers and sociologists that things are not as simple as they tend to think.
With the combined insights from engineers, sociologists and economists, I have reached the conclusion that 100% coverage is an elusive target for at least five different reasons:
First, the population growth rate in Bolivia is about 1.5% per year, which means that even if we reach 100% coverage by January 2025, by December the same year there will be almost 200,000 additional people who need water and sanitation.
Second, the population is not only constantly growing, but also constantly moving. More than half of all Bolivian municipalities are losing population due to internal migration (see Map 1 below), while a few dozen municipalities are receiving the vast majority of these migrants. The main receiving municipalities are: Santa Cruz de la Sierra (32,000 migrants per year), El Elto (20,000), Cochabamba (11,000), La Guardia (6,000), Warnes (6,000), Oruro (6,000), Sacaba (6,000), and Tarija (5,000) (1). Close to a million Bolivians will have moved from one municipality to another between now and 2025, and most of them will likely come from the disperse rural communities that the government is currently prioritizing for water and sanitation investments. The most extreme example in the map below is the municipality of Chayanta in the northern part of Potosí. In the five years before the 2012 population census, it lost 29% of its population to migration, despite having just reached 94% coverage of water.
Stories about sexual violence against girls and women are common in the Bolivian news, but recently the stories have escalated to such hideous levels that the Vice-President of Bolivia has announced a referendum on whether to re-institute life-in-prison and death penalty in Bolivia (1).
For example, last Sunday, one of the guards of the “Defence of Children and Adolescents” facility in La Paz was caught in fraganti sexually violation two under-age girls who had come to the facility because they had suffered abuse (1).
The day before, a step-father and step-grandfather were jailed in Cochabamba for sexually violating and killing a baby girl, who had not even turned two (2).
A couple of weeks before, the President of the Municipal Council of Tapacarí (Cochabamba) was physically and sexually assaulting one of the female members of the Council, and a friend of the woman was trying to stop the assault when the Mayor arrived. But instead of helping the two women, the Mayor exclaimed “Why haven’t you raped these horny whores yet? Rape them and throw them in the river.” (3)
To celebrate Earth Day 2017, which is tomorrow, I would like to highlight the important findings of a paper by Campbell et al. published earlier this month in Nature (1). The paper documents, through the analysis of air trapped in ice from Antarctica, that the growth of global terrestrial gross primary production (GPP) –the amount of carbon dioxide that is ‘fixed’ into organic material through photosynthesis– is larger now than it has been at any time during the last 54,000 years. This basically means that the planet is greener and nature is thriving more now than at any time during human history, despite all the havoc we humans are wreaking everywhere.
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
At INESAD there is no gender discrimination in salaries. But there ought to be. As I will show in this blog, women at INESAD are on average about four times more productive than men.
Admittedly, it is a small sample. We are currently only six senior researchers at INESAD: Two females and four males (we recently lost one female to Panama). Junior researchers come and go, and for administrative and support staff it is difficult to measure productivity, so in this blog I will focus on the productivity of the six current senior researchers who were all salaried staff at INESAD during the last three calendar years (2014-2016). All of them have a Ph.D. in Economics from a foreign university many years ago (except one, who didn’t bother to finish and defend his Ph.D.-thesis, because he (correctly) perceived that it would not add to his earnings potential).
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
In 2013, Bolivia passed Law No. 348 titled “The Integral Law to Guarantee Women a Life Without Violence” in order to address the high levels of physical and sexual violence against women, and the unacceptably high levels of femicide (basically defined as a woman being killed by someone she knows).
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
According to The World Bank’s World Development Indicators, there are now more or less an equal number of boys and girls enrolled in primary and secondary school around the World. The worldwide Gender Parity Index has been going up steadily over the last several decades, reaching 99 girls for every 100 boys in 2014, and at this rate of change we would have reached parity last year. This is due to dramatic improvements in girls’ enrolment in Africa and Asia. In Latin America and the Caribbean, in contrast, there have been more girls enrolled than boys already since the early 1980s (see Figure 1).
By: Lykke E. Andersen*
Poverty is usually measured at the household level, and since there is pretty much the same number of women as men in each household, poverty rates have almost by definition been identical for men and women. This fact, however, has not prevented thousands of articles from claiming that “poverty has a female face” (1). The perception that women are more likely to be poor is almost universal, despite the lack of empirical evidence.